Free Solo

At the Movies Blog
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I’m a music lover. When I hear the word “solo” I’m thinking of Eddie Van Halen or some guitarist. I’m a movie critic. When I hear the word “solo” I also think that Disney is spitting another Star Wars movie at us. If you’re a college student, you hear the word “solo” and are thinking of those red cups you have to write your name on at keggers. Only a small percentage of the population, who are mountain climbers will know what free soloing is.

The two film critics groups I’m a member of nominated this National Geographic documentary for an award for the “best documentary” of the year (Three Identical Strangers and Won’t You Be My Neighbor were the winners). But Mr. Rogers was left off the Oscar nomination lists, and Free Solo wasn’t. Perhaps Fred should’ve put on different shoes, and scaled a mountain instead of talking to puppets on his couch.

Anyway, Free Solo is being re-released for one week starting Friday (locally, you can see it at Plaza Bonita, Palm Promenade, Mission Valley, Parkway Plaza, Escondido, and the Edwards Mira Mesa).

I suppose it’s not much of a spoiler alert to tell you that Alex Honnold becomes the first person to climb the El Capitan mountain in Yosemite National Park without ropes or any equipment. Had he died, the documentary probably wouldn’t have come out (although there was Grizzly Man, but…)

In my San Diego Film Critics Society, many of the members thought that Honnold was too rude to his girlfriend. My wife and I didn’t, because he he seems to have something like Aspergers. In an interview with his mom, she says his father had it. And knowing that, hearing him say that if he died his girlfriend would just move on…or when he finds out a wife is devastated after her mountain climbing husband died, he cavalierly says “What did she expect?” So, his disorders shouldn’t turn you off by any indifference he has towards his girlfriend (who is basically a groupie that gave him her number at one of his book signings, says she loves his “honesty” and wants to live life to the fullest all the time).

The two things about this documentary that I enjoyed are — I learned about somebody and something I knew nothing about. Well, I know a little about mountain climbing, because over the last five years there have been a handful of movies/documentaries on the subject. And two, it’s entertaining as hell. Except for some of the middle section which drags a bit.

It might have helped if Honnold were a more compelling subject, or when we hear from other climbers, they were a bit more interesting. One of them mentions having lost 30 or 40 friends (by lost, I don’t mean they unfriended him on Facebook).

A few of his trips to the doctors are almost as fascinating as when he trades notes with other climbers. Seeing an X-ray and hearing him ask if he can go out on a hike the day after he suffered a major ankle sprain, shows you just how driven he is about all this.

The cinematography (Jimmy Chin) is incredible, making the fact that you can catch it in IMAX something of a treat. And at a time when people clamour to go see all the Oscar nominated movies (and then wonder why there was so much buzz over Roma or The Favourite), perhaps this is the movie you should seek out (oh, and Green Book, which is the best film of the year).

Heights freak me out, so this was a nerve wracking and fun experience to watch. At one point, I started wondering who impressed me more — Honnold or the guy who was climbing and got his arm caught in a boulder and cut it off with a pocket knife to save himself.

As we watched him attempt a huge mountain, my wife said, “He’s like a damn billy goat!”

That should’ve been the tagline they used on the movie poster.

3 ½ stars out of 5.





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