“Alex Honnold attempts to become the first person to ever free solo climb El Capitan.”

Director: JImmy Chin, Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi
Release Date: December 13, 2018
Streaming: Disney+

Free Solo (2018) is scarier than 90% of the horror movies that have been made in recent movies. There is nearly unbearable angst built up surrounding Alex Honnold’s attempt to be the first ever free solo climber of Yosemite’s El Capitan. Free Solo captures the thrill and danger of free solo climbing and pins it against the “Is what it is” mantra of its focal point Alex, creating a unique lens to view one of the worlds most dangerous activities.

From a movie nerd level, I am absolutely fascinated how directors Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi made the movie. Getting the crew to film Free Solo has to be simultaneously tough yet easy task. The leaders of this production know they have to fill a lot of perimeters; must be able to climb, must not be afraid of heights…and must be okay with seeing someone possibly die?? The pool to pick people from is so small, but the willingness to possibly witness despair is even barer.

It is impossible to refute the story concept for Free Solo. It is a fascinating tale and the lens that which this is told is remarkable. What one can debate, and they did so in the movie itself, is if it is morale to make a movie about someone who may die attempting to do a seemingly impossible task.

Some mentors of Alex, who are helping him train for El Cap, note how while they can’t exactly condone what their friend is doing, they would not be able to live knowing they did nothing to help their friend get ready for it. The director and entire film production crew also have candid conversations with Alex about whether or not he wants them to film, or if they should. It’s most fascinating when everyone is discussing the most dangerous pitch of the climb. Alex needs to decide whether to do a risky jump, a karate style move or some other sort of maneuver to survive; it is openly talked about whether or not that portion should be filmed at all for what can possibly happen.

The stress of the movie is not just in the climbing itself, but also in the relationship between Alex and his girlfriend, Sanni. Man, what a pair these two are. Alex is a classic “it is what it is” guy who is willing to accept the consequences upon himself and others are not his biggest concern. He understands how others may feel around him and how it may affect them, but he does not fane putting others below what he wants to do. Sanni on the other hand is vocal about her feelings and is not afraid to push the envelope on emotions. Sanni, for my money, is the unsung hero of Free Solo. She is the Sam Wise Gamgee.

Free Solo is special. It is a phenomenal unique story that is filled with truly interesting characters. Alex is an eccentric introvert with literally some of the best physical skills in the world. Sanni the sympathetic yet inspiring minor character who’s willingness to sacrifice her priorities is what allows the hero to succeed. The film crew acts like the audience avatar having to tackle with the morality of the story they are taking on. Then there is El Cap, the mountain itself. What an imposing, looming, evil piece of slab. It is like the uber tall bully that has taunted all comers but eventually someone stood up to him and literally climbed all over him.

The 2019 Oscars got it absolutely right. Free Solo is a brilliant documentary. Free Solo and Boys State (2020) are two of the more recent documentaries I have viewed and they really are *must watch*. Everything about them are fantastic.

STANKO RATING: A+ (5.0/5 Stars)


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