Movie Review: Free Solo

I’d already heard good things about Free Solo before it won the Oscar for best documentary this year, even though I hadn’t had the chance to see it before the awards. It aired on National Geographic TV the other day and I DVRed it, and we finally had the chance to watch it this weekend.

As far as documentaries go, it’s quite straightforward: it tracks the efforts of Alex Honnold to scale El Capitan, a 3,000 foot rock cliff in Yosemite. It’s been climbed by plenty of people before, but never by someone without a rope. Which, naturally, is what Alex decided to do. By himself.

It’s a riveting watch (made even more riveting by watching it on as big of a screen as you can find). And it’s an excellent reminder that stories don’t need to be flashy to be riveting. Set up a simple problem, raise the stakes high enough, and you’ve got all the drama you could ever want. Of course, in this case it’s done by a very capable film maker, who does a good job of establishing who Alex is and what he stands to lose if he should fall. Better yet, they go into detail about just why this rock cliff in particular is so difficult to climb, and where the trickiest spots will be.

I’m not a rock climber (and after watching this movie, I have no plans to become one). But through the course of the movie, I felt like I knew enough about what was happening to have a full understanding of the challenges as they came up. I won’t tell you how the movie ends, but it was definitely worth the watch. I gave it a 9/10. Suitable for just about anyone, except anyone with a fear of heights. (Seriously. I have no idea how these people do this. My palms were sweating just watching the guy start his climb. I’d have slipped to my death in the first hundred feet, even if I had the skill to actually climb things . . .)


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