Monday, November 19, 2018

Free Solo

The documentary from Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi follows climber Alex Honnold and his preparations to become the first person to ever free solo climb Yosemite's 3,000-foot El Capitan. While diving into the Honnold's closest relationships and his makeup, the film focuses primarily on the dangers of the climber's quest and the ambition and drive which he cannot ignore. Featuring interviews with fellow climbers and Honnold's mother and girlfriend, we learn a bit of what makes the climber tick as he attempts to accomplish the improbable feat of climbing the sheer granite face of a 3,000-foot mountain without any climbing gear or any kind of safety net.

Because Chin and his cameramen are friends of Honnold, the documentary also adds an unexpected undercurrent to the story of Honnold not wanting to let his friends down while they are equally fearful of the very real possibility they might be enabling the climber to film his death during an outrageously dangerous feat. The result is an engaging documentary ending in Honnold's historic attempt.

Free Solo's strength is in the beautiful shots and the the solid work to explain both the dangers of what Honnold is attempting and the drive which not only he but other climbers feel to push towards such lofty goals. It's in Alex's conversations with other climbers that the "itch" is best explored leading up the film's climax. Circumstances, including unexpected injuries and setbacks, drag out the documentary a bit longer than expected, but these lulls allow the filmmakers to more closely examine Alex's burgeoning relationship and the struggle to be a good boyfriend while also being driven to his latest risky venture.

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