Review: Free Solo is a stunning film. You have to see it to believe it
This is one of the most thrilling feature films in recent memory. Free Solo is also, interestingly, a National Geographic-produced documentary.
Its subject is the legendary rock climber Alex Honnold. In June 2017, Honnold became the first person to scale the world’s most famous granite monolith: the 3,200-ft-high El Capitan in California’s Yosemite National Park. And he did it free solo — with just shoes and a chalk bag; no ropes, no harnesses; no other protective gear.
Expect plot, subplot and suspense as the film tracks the larger journey and the meticulous preparation that went into achieving this lifelong dream. Interviews with Honnold are surprisingly moving — he talks of how he was encouraged since childhood by his mother’s belief that “good isn’t enough”; asked about his new relationship with girlfriend Sanni McCandless, he confides in his even-keel voice that he has “always chosen climbing over a lady at least up to now”. The climax is a heart-pounding 20-minute sequence of Honnold’s actual climb.
Free Solo deservedly snagged an Oscar and the BAFTA for Best Documentary Feature last year. In it, directors Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin deliver a paean to the indomitability of the human spirit. Put simply, it has to be seen to be believed.