Alex Honnold is such a pure and genuine person – and I want to BE him.
Synopsis: The documentarian duo behind 2015’s acclaimed Meru return to high altitudes, this time as renowned rock climber Alex Honnold attempts to do what no climber has done before: ascend free solo — without safety ropes — up the 3,000-foot cliff of El Capitan in California’s Yosemite National Park. (Mongrel Media)
Starring: Alex Honnold
Directors: Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin
Rating: PG-13 (United States)
Running Time: 100mins
Here at keithlovesmovies, we have continued to call 2018 the year of the documentary. With not only the glaring reviews, but also the immense box office success of films such as Three Identical Strangers, Won’t You Be My Neighbor and RBG, there’s no way around giving it the name. However, Free Solo has come out and knocked all three films off their feet – winning the People’s Choice Documentary Award at TIFF, getting the highest opening weekend Per Theater Average of the year and selling out shows across North America. It has quickly become the shining star of a year that is filled to the brim with documentaries – and deservedly so.
Everything about this film being so successful just makes so much sense. To begin, the story here is as awe-provoking as any story could get. And, it’s the way that it all comes together that makes it so great – an charismatic lead, famed free solo climber Alex Honnold, with a great arc, side characters that really bring up the emotion and tension, and a hell-of-a-big wall.
The feat at hand here is obviously inspiring as it can be – the El Capitan is pretty huge, and the fact that Honnold decided to do it is impressive in itself – but the payoff that the movie gives us with it doesn’t only impress us with his abilities. His persistence is what makes this so terrifying, and every slight fall or moment that could go wrong will have you gripping your armrest and holding your breath for a concerning amount of time.
Aside from the human aspect of the story, and the death defying act that comes with it – all the technical portions of the film are astounding. The camera work that is done here makes the big task at hand even more revolutionary, with how beautiful it really is as well as the way it was actually done. It is already an incredibly stressful time for Honnold, and even though he could fall to his death at any moment, we have an extremely brave and equally persistent camera crew that follows him the entire way up. It’s also done extremely well – the tracking shots and aerial footage are really unlike anything we’ve seen before.
Looking past the climb itself, which is only the third act of the film, everything that leads up to it makes the pay off all the more satisfying. In particular, his relationship with girlfriend Sanni McCandless is a real driving force of the story, allowing us not only to feel for their relationship, but the struggle she faces dealing with the fact that any time she sees him could be the last.
Free Solo is truly a revelation – flipping the expectations of a documentary, this is a film that has completely revolutionized the filming of athleticism, but has also taken a truly dangerous athletic feat, turning it into one of the most heartfelt and terrifying films of the year.