Alex Honnold is an extraordinary individual, and Free Solo, the thrilling chronicle of his attempts to climb Yosemite's 3,000 foot tall El Capitan Wall in the titular fashion — read: without ropes — matches his amazing abilities and dedication.
While missing the two-climber intrigue of the year’s other big (and El Cap-set) climbing documentary, The Dawn Wall, whose central figure Tommy Caldwell provides key sport and friend support for Honnold, the singular focus carries different narrative perks.
By zeroing in on their special subject, Jimmy Chin and his wife/co-director Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi craft a more inviting and accessible climbing story than they did in Meru, and also elevate their visual style in a more cinematically conducive environment.
On the human interest side, though Honnold is in many ways a biped machine, the presence of his supportive girlfriend Sanni McCandless elicits some relatable emotions, and his personal history and contemporary medical tests offer insights into his professional motivations.
But ultimately, viewers are seeing this film to witness spellbinding shots of a death-defying mission, and in that regard Free Solo is a soaring success.
Grade: B-plus. Rated PG-13. Starts Oct. 19 at Grail Moviehouse
(Photo: National Geographic Documentary Films)