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Free Solo (2018)

Jake Lipson

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Title: Free Solo

Tagline: Live beyond fear.

Genre: Documentary

Director: Jimmy Chin, Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi

Cast: Alex Honnold, Jimmy Chin, Tommy Caldwell, Sanni McCandless

Release: 2018-12-14

Runtime: 97

Plot: Follow Alex Honnold as he becomes the first person to ever free solo climb Yosemite's 3,000 foot high El Capitan wall. With no ropes or safety gear, he completed arguably the greatest feat in rock climbing history.

 

Jake Lipson

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I'm surprised there wasn't already a thread for this movie but thought I should make one.

As I've actually had to explain to several friends when I said I was going to see it, I'm not referring to a free screening of the recent Star Wars movie. This is a completely separate movie with no relation, named for a climbing term when a climber doesn't use a rope.

This is a documentary about Alex Honnold. He is a professional climber who, over the course of the movie, attempts to climb El Capitan in Yosemite National Park, which is 3000 feet up, "free solo." Prior to his attempt, no one had ever done this before, and it's an open question whether he will be able to do it or whether he will fall to his death on camera, either of which seem like totally legitimate possibilities throughout the movie. Rock climbing is not an area of interest for me, and I legitimately didn't know how this was going to go because I hadn't seen news about it while it was happening. I wasn't planning on going to the movie in the first place, just because I didn't see how that could be interesting, but a critic who I trust and with whom I tend to agree reviewed it and said it was essential viewing. So I went because I trust him, and he wasn't kidding.

I don't think a documentary has ever won Best Cinematography before, but if this movie does not take that award next February, there is something fundamentally wrong with the Academy's entire system. You're on the side of the cliff with him for a lot of it, and it's breathtaking and unbelievable some of the shots they got. Although it is not being shown on their screens, it's absolutely the equal of any IMAX documentary you've ever seen and demands to be seen on the biggest screen you can find. The documentary crew actually addresses how they get the shots in the movie, and whether or not making the documentary is interfering with his process or pushing him to do it -- as in, does he want to do it only to show off for the camera, and how does their presence change what would happen if they weren't there?

It's really fascinating. One of the interviewees describes it as "a gold medal Olympic competition in terms of the level of skill, only if you don't get the gold medal, you die." It's a completely insane thing to do, but the movie makes you understand why he wants to do it so much, and also why it rattles the people close to him in his life to have him pursuing this particular dream. I'm quite serious when I say I think the movie probably raised my blood pressure, and my hands were sweaty throughout much of it. However, it was absolutely worth it because it is one of the most extraordinary cinematic achievements in many years, and is exactly what we go to the movies for in the first place. It was a totally visceral experience that will take you out of your life and your experiences. It puts you squarely into Alex's experience, which is probably something you'll never do on your own but you get to feel the rush through this film and truly see a different perspective on things than you otherwise would have. And it looks just amazing. I've seen, now, four really great documentaries this year (Won't You Be My Neighbor, Three Identical Strangers and Tea With the Dames), but this one would be my vote for Best Documentary for sure. Honestly I'd probably put this in contention for Best Picture if I were making the list. I seriously can't say enough good things about it. I will definitely buy it, which I rarely do with documentaries.

I really do encourage you all to find it if it's playing near you and make an effort to see it on the biggest screen possible. Its really something special.
 

JQuintana

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I've seen another documentary about him and it just BOGGLES my mind what he has been able to do. Simply amazing! I'll catch this when it hits Netflix or similar.
 

Jake Lipson

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If you can find it theatrically, it's really something that benefits from the big screen experience.
 

JimmyO

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Sounds really good! I'd probably get dizzy watching it, by the way you describe it.

Also when I saw the title immediately I thought it was a Free Willy and Star Wars crossover.

Ok..not really. :banana:
 

Jake Lipson

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I had no problem watching it, but if you think you might, you could always find a theater that sells beer/wine and take that into the theater with you as a relaxant. I've been to a couple places that offer this, though I've never done it personally as I don't drink.
 

steve jaros

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I saw Free Solo last week and was mesmerized. The whole idea of climbing thousand - foot high rocks and cliffs with nothing but a bag of chalk and rubber-tread shoes is so off the hook insane, this guy must be the calmest coolest cucumber on the planet. Thoroughly enjoyable.
 

Robert Crawford

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I saw Free Solo last week and was mesmerized. The whole idea of climbing thousand - foot high rocks and cliffs with nothing but a bag of chalk and rubber-tread shoes is so off the hook insane, this guy must be the calmest coolest cucumber on the planet. Thoroughly enjoyable.
I finally caught up with this documentary today in my nearest IMAX theater. My one word description of it is "Wow". This dude is from another planet with his huge set of stones.
 

Colin Jacobson

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Also went A-List to IMAX this today,

Thought it was interesting but wish they'd spent more time on Alex the person and less on Alex the climber.

I know - the climactic climb is the Big Deal in the movie, but I thought it was kinda boring, to be honest - and not just because I knew he wouldn't plummet to his death.

The movie occasionally looks at Alex's peculiar personality characteristics and his family, but I would've liked way more of that.

When you voluntarily live in a van, don't know how to hug someone until you're 23, generally avoid human contact and put yourself in potentially fatal situations for craps 'n' giggles, there's something unusual at work there. A more complete movie would've better explored those areas...
 

The Drifter

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Recently saw Free Solo for the first time. Wow. Truly incredible film, with an amazing story & incredible scenery. I knew next to nothing about mountain climbing before seeing this - and it's a fascinating look at this "world".

Though I knew the climber wouldn't plunge to his death during the climb, it was still nerve-wracking watching this. I consider climbing a mountain like this without any kind of safety features/protection (ropes, etc.) to be borderline-suicidal, but that's me - LOL.
 

Scott McGillivray

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So this is the dramatization of the documentary "The Dawn Wall"? Is that correct?
Such an amazing story. I didn't think it really needed a dramatic telling since the documentary is so good.
 

Jake Lipson

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So this is the dramatization of the documentary "The Dawn Wall"? Is that correct?

No. This is a separate and standalone documentary about Alex Honnold climbing El Capitan without a rope. It is not a dramatization.

I haven't seen The Dawn Wall, but according to IMDb, it appears to be about an earlier attempt by others to climb the same thing.
 
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Mike2001

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They actually talk about The Dawn Wall in Free Solo. The climber in The Dawn Wall (Tommy Caldwell) is the one who helps Alex map out his route here.

The Dawn Wall is about Tommy Caldwell's climb up the most difficult pitch of El Capitan (with gear and protection). Free Solo covers Alex Honnold's attempt at a more conventional route without protection and climbing gear.
 
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Jonathan Perregaux

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I watched this on a jet while landing at LAX airport last week. If that isn’t confronting fear, I don’t know what is. Heebie jeebies, man!
 
Movie information in first post provided by The Movie Database

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