A Sensational Documentary That Will Have Audiences Clenching
Although the film Free Solo is technically a documentary and has nothing to do with Star Wars’ Han Solo, it’s difficult to refer to a Hollywood film that was more thrilling in 2018. This documentary is about the truly unbelievable achievements of Alex Honnold, a man who specializes in “free climbs” or rock climbing without the assistance of ropes or safety harnesses. Despite his many climbing accomplishments, Alex’s biggest goal is to be the first person to free climb the famed El Capitan, a 3,000-foot high granite wall in Yosemite National Park. Thanks to amazing footage captured by talented (and brave) filmmakers, the audience has a front row seat at the historical climbing attempt.
The film opens with clips of Alex climbing spliced with his daily and personal life. Despite being at the top of his sport, he does not live a glamorous life. Alex lives in spartan conditions, a camper van with a pull-out bed so that he can be near the mountains. Climbing is Alex’s life, and audiences see an up-close view of the devotion to his craft as he plans his climbs with meticulous details, such as noting which finger to use to hold a position. Audiences are also introduced to the small band of fellow climbing legends and the film crew that follows Alex on his exploits. This crew is committed to helping Alex conquer El Capitan, but struggle with the possibility that his attempt could very easily cost him his life, as many of their peers have died pursuing this rare of sports.
Adding levity to the film, viewers learn about Alex’s dating life as well. Although a climber’s life is not conducive to romantic relationships, Alex has recently started dating a new girlfriend, who he met at one of his book signings. The footage of their relationship provides several unintentionally humorous conversations, especially an awkward scene where Alex admits his one true love is climbing and (in his own, polite way) that she can’t stop him from achieving his goals. Beyond his romantic life, we also meet Alex’s family and get a sense of his childhood and what drove him to such a dangerous sport. Alex, was a highly intelligent child, but socially, somewhat of a loner. He was drawn to the challenges of climbing from a young age. As he excelled in the sport, Alex sought greater challenges, which ultimately led him to the world of free climbing.
Free Solo is a sensational documentary and captures some of the most amazing footage of an athlete preparing to achieve greatness. The directors, Jimmy Chin, and Elizabeth Vasarhelyi, who have worked with Alex before, do an excellent job of maintaining a steady pace with the story by skillfully balancing footage of Alex’s personal life along with the main event of the movie, his climb at Yosemite. When Alex begins his ascent of El Capitan, the camerawork and film score do an outstanding job of building and sustaining suspense in an already harrowing scene due to the high stakes in play for the protagonist.
Bottom Line: Whether you are an outdoorsman or not, Free Solo is an incredible documentary that will undoubtedly wow audiences.
Credits: Directed by Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin
Starring: Alex Honnold, Sanni McCandless
Studio: Greenwich Entertainment
Running Time: 97 minutes
Jessica DeLong © September 30, 2018