“Free Solo” Review

Nat-Geo’s rock climbing documentary “Free Solo” is an impressive and nail-biting showcase of extraordinary athletic achievement.

By Uri Vaknin, Staff Writer

“Free Solo,” a National Geographic documentary directed by Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, centers on Alex Honnold, the only person to have climbed the 3,000 feet summit of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park­ without a rope.

The personal documentary showed Honnold’s personal life and psyche as he risks his life for his monumental goal. The film does a great job profiling him, allowing the audience to see the man behind the feat, highlighting his quirky personality but extraordinary determination.

The film is pieced together well, maintaining a clear focus on Honnold and his one true hobby of free soloing- climbing with no gear. The narrative glides over how he developed this dangerous love from his early years and the effects it has on the people around him, but doesn’t dwell too much on these aspects. It keeps the film at a steady pace and maintains interest without ever feeling like it drags on.

It is truly impressive to see Honnold’s dedication to free soloing, having climbed other notable locations before El Capitan without gear. He had already gained mainstream recognition in 2012 after free soloing the Regular Northwest Face of Half Dome in Yosemite Valley. He also free-soloed Zion’s Moonlight Buttress in 2008 and did both Astroman and Rostrum in a single day in 2007.

Professional rock climbers and his friends were behind the camera, carrying the daunting responsibility of capturing Honnold’s climb. They know that at any given moment, their friend could fall out of frame and to his death.

His girlfriend, Sanni McCandless, added emotional weight to the documentary as she copes with the anxiety of Honnold’s love for harness-less climbing. The documentary did a great job reflecting the tense and nerve-racking ride for everyone involved.

The film is also shot masterfully, giving the audience a true sense of the scale and scope of free soloing. There are some shots while Honnold is climbing that is so visceral, it feels as if you are up there with him. It does a superb job evoking a sense of vertigo making it all the more impressive, yet nail-biting to watch.

It was an incredible documentary to witness, one that can be enjoyed and appreciated by people who aren’t big fans of rock climbing. Hats off to Honnold and everyone involved in the stressful production of this film.