At the North end of Yosemite Valley in Yosemite national park stands a rock formation that has become a haven for mountain climbers from around the world. It stands 3000 feet in the air, made entirely of granite and so sheer that it looks like the walls of the sandcastles one would build on the beach as a kid. This rock formation is known as “El Captain”.
Attracting climbers for decades, the almost smooth sheer face of “El Cap” began to attract a type of climber not looking to climb with bolt-hole drilling. Climbers that are looking to climb with as minimal gear as possible. And some climbers, no gear at all. Free climbers.
Climbers are anal people by necessity, even the smallest error can mean death. So the concept of hanging 1000 feet up, let alone 3000 feet up, by only holding on to the smallest edge of a joint that is the width of a finger, with just your fingers, is crazy to a lot of climbers. “One little slip and you fall and die.” A journalist asks American free solo climber Alex Honnold in the opening scene of award-winning filmmaker and professional climber, Jimmy Chin’s newest film, Free Solo. Honnold is an American free solo climber, that has climbed into the sport’s history books almost overnight with an impressive record of climbs including the 2000 foot northwest face of the half dome in Yosemite Valley, the 1200 foot finger crack that splits Zion’s Moonlight Buttress in Zion National Park in Utah. All without and gear. Despite the enormity of these successes Free Solo immediately asks the age-old question: Why risk your life?
Free Solo documents Honnold’s 8-year drive to climb the sheer 3000-foot face of El Cap. And treats you to hands down some of the best views in a theatre that you will see this year. Chin and his wife, Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi’s team of filmmakers use their skills as professional climbers to be on El Cap with Honnold and create some frames that take your breath away. Chin smartly does not shy away from showing his crew. We get to know this team, and through their friendship with Honnold, Alex himself. It’s what allows Free Solo to become more than a film about climbing as his friends and camera crew documenting him deal with shooting a film that stands every chance of seeing Honnold falling through the frame and to his death.
Chin and Vasarhelyi build a tension as they examine if themselves are enabling Honnold’s quest to climb El Cap. Whereas Honnold’s unique take on his friends and families worries is almost engaging as his journey leading up to his choice to whether he’ll attempt his climb. Ultimately, the weight of that choice is left to his girlfriend to hit the climax for Free Solo as she leaves Honnold for his final attempt up El Cap.
Vasarhelyi created a storyline and tension that will draw you in as you learn more of Alex Honnold and the reason why he was climbing El Cap while Chin captures some of the most breathtaking footage you will see in a theatre. Do yourself a favor and see this film in a theatre as it’s the only way to truly appreciate this masterpiece of filmmaking. Free Solo currently has 100% on Rotten Tomatoes and it deserves every percent of that score. Free Solo is well worth 5 out of 5 as the drive of Alex Honnold will inspire you in your life.