Well, here you have it. My first 5 Q movie of the year… and it’s a documentary. Who’d have thought? Don’t forget: not all movies are fiction, and this is a prime example of some of the best documentary filmmaking I’ve ever seen.
On the surface, this is just a movie about some dude doing something stupid: attempting to become the first person to ever scale El Capitan in California’s Yosemite National Park without any ropes or climbing gear. Stupid, right? What would possess someone to do something so insane? What this film does is try to explain the thought processes of the man who wants to do just that. Alex Honnold sees this climb as his ultimate dream, and the filmmakers do their best to show us exactly why that is.
Maybe I should be preparing for this year’s Oscars by actually watching the nominees… but fuck it. I’ve been wanting to watch this for a long time. Let me have some joy, would you?
Actually, ‘joy’ would be the wrong word. The truth is that Free Solo is often scarier than any horror film you’ll ever see. You know when people say “that was nail-biting”? Until now, I’ve never felt the need literally bite my nails before. In fact, there are so many emotions audiences will feel throughout this documentary that it honestly feels like a whirlwind: one minute I was in disbelief, the next I had goosebumps, then came the awe. Even though I was already aware of the conclusion, it made it no less dramatic to witness.
When Free Solo won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, people were absolutely raving about it. At the time, I failed to see why so many were obsessed with a film about a man climbing a mountain, in all honesty. But now… I completely get it. The filmmaking itself is the difference between life and death; one wrong move from a member of the film crew and it could cost this man everything. When does that ever really happen when making a movie? When does the way a cameraman moves during a shoot ever become so pivotal that it could cause certain death if he does it incorrectly? Crazy.
Some have raised qualms about how this film doesn’t delve enough into Alex Honnold’s background and personal life, but I couldn’t disagree more. I feel as if I know a lot about this guy even though I’ve only spent 100 minutes with him, and what this documentary does so well is really make you invest in the person and not just the challenge. I can’t say that I understand the guy, but I can’t help but feel inspired by him. Some things transcend what humanity should be capable of, and what Honnold does here is nothing short of extraordinary.
There’s one word to describe Free Solo for me: gripping. I couldn’t look away for even a second, and the hold it had on me started way before the climb took place. A piece of purely excellent non-fiction filmmaking from everyone involved.
Free Solo is available to stream on Disney+ in the UK.
TQR Category Ratings:
Costume & Set Design: n/a
Overall Enjoyability Rating: