Review: Free Solo

Free Solo (2018) 1h 40min | Documentary, Sport | 14 December 2018 (UK) Summary: Follow Alex Honnold as he becomes the first person to ever free solo climb Yosemite's 3,000 ft high El Capitan wall. With no ropes or safety gear, he completed arguably the greatest feat in rock climbing history.
Countries: USALanguages: English

One of the world’s most acclaimed rock climbers attempts his most perilous challenge in Free Solo. Alex Honnold is an acclaimed rock climber, who has gained notoriety for his success at free solo climbing, where he does not wear any safety gear. Alex decides that the time has come to face his biggest challenge of free soloing of 3000 feet height of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. With one mistake being the difference between life and death, Alex spends months planning his climb and deciding whether the risks are worth it.

Free Solo is a documentary produced by National Geographic, which follows rock climber Alex Honnold on his very perilous task of free soloing El Capitan. Free soloing is an extremely dangerous form of climbing, since the route has to be planned out perfectly or else you would fall to your death. In addition, the very presence of a documentary crew adds and extra challenge, since they don’t want to get in Alex’s way and be responsible for a fatal accident.

Even with a rope and harness, rock climbing can be a very dangerous sport and Alex Honnold even receives two semi-serious injuries during the preparation for this free solo climb. However, he is unwilling to walk away from this challenge, even though the stakes are higher for his film time around. As someone probably on the autistic spectrum, Alex is shown to be an interesting individual when it comes to placing his priorities. This includes shrugging off news of fellow climbers dying, saying it’s just something that happens to everyone eventually. On the flip side is Alex’s girlfriend Sanni McCandless, who becomes increasingly worried about him and how the climb would affect their budding relationship.

After months of preparations and once false start, Alex Honnold finally attempts his climb in June 2017 and filmmakers Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi utilizes multiple cameras, including a drone, to document this perilous climb. Even knowing how things turn out, this climbing sequence it probably one of the most suspenseful 15-20 minutes you would ever experience watching a documentary, since Alex only has the support of cracks and various nooks and crannies to get him up this very high rock formation. In fact, there is one moment where the drone filming Alex pulls back and he just turns into a tiny speck on this huge cliff.

I probably wouldn’t recommend people see Free Solo theatrically if they suffer from anxiety or are prone to vertigo. However, the film is still an excellent document about one man facing the biggest challenge of his life.

Free Solo is now playing at the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema

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Sean Kelly Author

Sean Patrick Kelly is a self-described über-geek, who has been an avid film lover for all his life. He graduated from York University in 2010 with an honours B.A. in Cinema and Media Studies and he likes to believe he knows what he’s talking about when he writes about film (despite occasionally going on pointless rants).