Alex Honnold climbs through the enduro corner on El Capitan's Freerider. Picture: National Geographic/Jimmy Chin
Alex Honnold climbs through the enduro corner on El Capitan's Freerider. Picture: National Geographic/Jimmy Chin

MOVIE REVIEW: Free Solo a must-see doco unlike any other

THE incredible Oscar-nominated documentary Free Solo introduces you to 33-year-old American professional climber Alex Honnold.

A scrawny, quietly spoken and yet, coolly confident fellow, Honnold has some big plans he wishes to share with you. Big, dangerous plans.

Honnold wants to ascend El Capitan, a legendarily intimidating, unforgivably sheer rock face standing almost a kilometre high in California's Yosemite National Park.

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Now while El Capitan is not the highest point of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, it is the most physically and mentally demanding.

Particularly when you intend to conquer it like Honnold, who wants to be the first to get to the top "free solo."

Don't know what that means? You soon will.

Honnold's specialty is climbing alone, without the use of a single rope, or any protective gear.

Think about that for a moment. One wrong move, and you are almost certain to fall to your death.

Let the record show that El Capitan - with its glassy granite finish neither offering much traction to hand nor foot - is not in the business of offering any assistance to anyone daring to take it on.

While we get to know Honnold during a punishing training regimen of his own design, we come to appreciate this is not an everyday human being.

The single-minded head space into which he must retreat to do his best work does not allow much room for the wants, needs or concerns of anyone else.

Honnold meeting climbers as he rappels El Capitan's Freerider route to practice on the climb before his free solo attempt. Picture: National Geographic/Jimmy Chin
Honnold meeting climbers as he rappels El Capitan's Freerider route to practice on the climb before his free solo attempt. Picture: National Geographic/Jimmy Chin

The fact he has recently acquired a girlfriend - a relationship he ranks as one of the most important in his life to date - must be weighed against maintaining that ultra-solitary mindset so crucial to his unique climbing skill.

Allowing a film crew to ghost his every move - both on the ground and during his climactic assault on El Capitan - also has the potential to become a fatal mistake unless he gets it straight inside his head.

Sometimes the stuff that Honnold comes out when interviewed by the crew (largely comprised of good friends and fellow climbers) does make you wonder about his thought processes.

"Here's what I do not understand," asks one off-camera voice of Honnold during a scouting trip to El Capitan. One little mistake, one little slip, and you fall and die."

Honnold barely blinks, let alone pauses as he makes his reply: "Yeah. You seem to understand it well."

As beautifully and insightfully as Free Solo has been shot, you will spend much of it hoping Honnold doesn't go through with this possible suicide mission.

But he does. And what transpires is one of the greatest action sequences to ever grace the big screen.

Highly (and heart-in-mouth-ingly) recommended.

 

 

 

FREE SOLO (M)

 

Commit the perfect climb, or pay the ultimate price

 

Rating: Five stars (5 out of 5)

 

Director: Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, Jimmy Chin

 

Starring: Alex Honnold, Tommy Caldwell, Sanni McCandless.

 

 

 



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