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Free Solo


Stars: Alex Honnold

Director: Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, Jimmy Chin

Suspense is a standard cinema staple - will James Bond survive yet another highly improbable attempt to kill off the profitable franchise? Does Our Heroine stand a chance of escaping one more posse of pursuing movie monsters? Can smirking Jack Nicholson and a host of star names save Mankind from being annihilated by Martian Marauders?

In most fictional films any carefully calculated nerve-stretching suspense tends to be diluted by our knowledge that most money-making stars usually survive (apart from Janet Leigh's cliche-shattering departure from Psycho) to meet the end credits alive..

No so here.

Directors Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin's extraordinary documentary creates near-unbearable nerve-scraping tension as they follow free soloist climber Alex Honnold when he sets out to achieve his lifelong dream by climbing the vertical face of the world's most famous rock - the 3.200 foot El Capitan in Yosemite National Park - without a rope to save his life should he lose his grip for a single second.

Honnold (who lives in a van and whose MRI reveals that his amygdala - the source of fear in his brain - hardly seems active) emerges as nothing more than a cheerful risk-taker who plans every rock-clinging step and agrees to the positioning of the cameras.

And, although your subconscious will no doubt be assuring you that watching Honnold ascend with bare hands ('Your whole life depends on one foothold') you may, like me, find watching Free Solo one of he scariest cinematic experiences I can recall.

Honnold is a real man risking his life and not simply some star being cuddled by special effects.

One of the the most telling moments in a film that grips like a demented stranger and rarely relaxes was the reality of seeing a cameraman look away as the tension escalates.

Alan Frank

USA 2019. UK Distributor: Dogwoof. Colour.
99 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 12A.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 0, Swearing 1.

Review date: 02 Jan 2019