"Free Solo" (2018 release; 96 min.) is a bio-pick about Alex Honnold and his historic 2017 climb of Yosemite's El Capitan. As the movie open, we see Alex in the later stage of that climb, and the images immediately will cause you to gasp. We then go back to "Spring 2016", when Alex is doing a book tour and comments about why he does what he does. "Chances of falling off are low, but the consequences are high", he wryly observes. Ater a few minutes recapping Alex's upbringing, it isn't long before the movie centers on El Capitan, "the center of the rock-climbing universe"... At this point we are 10 min. into the movie, you'll just have to see for yourself how it all plays out.
Couple of comments: this is the latest documentary from (real life couple) Jimmy Chan and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, who previously brought us the equally excellent "Meru", one of my favorite movies of 2014. Here they document the extraordinary feat accomplished by Alex Hannold of conquering the 3,200 ft. El Capitan. While the movie does well putting everything into the proper context, in particular Alex's budding relationship with his new girlfriend, what makes this so remarkable is that we, the audience at large (whom I suspect are not experts in rock climbing, let alone free solo climbing) are shown how technical and challenging it is to climb up El Capitan, let alone doing it free solo. Alex does many trial runs to grasp and master the most difficult parts of the climb. The last half hour brings us the actual free solo climb (on June 3, 2017), and even though we know the outcome (Alex lives!), it is still stupefying and almost impossible to watch (I admit I covered my eyes on a number of occasions). There are simply no words for it.
"Free Solo" opened in late September in limited release, and immediately caused a sensation. The movie finally opened at my local art-house theater here in Cincinnati, and I couldn't wait to see it. The Friday evening screening where I saw this at was PACKED to the rafters in the largest room of the 6 screen theater, something I haven't seen in YEARS. The movie is going to be a box office smash in the art-house theater circuit, and sure to be nominated for a Best Documentary Oscar. Whether you have any interest in rock climbing or not, if you want to see one of the greatest human achievements in sports or you are a thrill-seeker, I'd readily suggest you check this out, be it in the theater, on VOD, or eventually on DVD/Blu-ray, and draw your own conclusion.
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