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Free Solo

For a documentary revolving around a death-defying act of athletic spirit and psychological endurance, Free Solo is surprisingly underwhelming but also not without some merit.

Alex Honnold, a rock climber who has earned legendary fame for scaling and climbing some of the world’s most incredible cliffs, eyes his next challenge – an epic trek up Yosemite National Park’s 3200ft El Capitan.  A rock of sheer granite with limited crevices to scale, El Capitan appears to be an impossible feat even to the most experienced climbers.  Honnold (someone who is quite literally fearless according to the film’s featured MRI scan) is aware of the danger, and spends close to a year training and preparing for the unexpected.

Free Solo is directed by Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin;  the latter filmmaker has accompanied Honnold in the past on expeditions.  This relationship is a good dynamic for the film because it adds personal history to the various other concerns from Alex’s support circle.  The problem, however, is that these additional perspectives are not distributed well enough.  Chin and his emotional cameramen are featured too often, taking the focus away from Alex and his gripping adventure.  There are also numerous curveballs that the filmmakers have a hard time rolling with.  For instance, when Alex has hesitations about El Capitan, the film itself isn’t edited well to simultaneously capture Hannold reaction to his jitters and the overwhelming reception from those around him.  Alex often feels like an outsider in his own movie.

Free Solo is mostly baggy anticipation topped off with a rushed ending.  But while it’s slightly unsatisfying, the cinematography is sincerely special and the film’s attempts to dig into Alex Honnold’s ironclad personality are admirable.

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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie

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