Free Solo

Free Solo

2018, PG-13, 100 min. Directed by Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, Jimmy Chin.

REVIEWED By Steve Davis, Fri., Oct. 12, 2018

“A passage of scripture is written on every cliff,” orated Unitarian minister Thomas Starr King over 150 years ago in a sermon devoted to the glory of Yosemite National Park. Its most striking peak, El Capitan, inspires awe in those first witnessing its singular majesty. Vertically ascending skyward to a height of over 3,200 feet, the mountain is nowhere near the pinnacle of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, but its unforgivably sheer facade of block granite has long dared humans to conquer it. In the kickass documentary Free Solo, 33-year-old professional mountain climber Alex Honnold takes a little less than four hours to scramble up the face of El Capitan, along a well-trod route christened “Free Rider.” Many before Honnold have made it to the top, but none of them – until now – has performed the ascent “free solo.” That is, alone and without the use of any ropes or other protective gear. The precision of a toehold on a crag, the micro-adjustment of fingers in a crevice: The perfect beauty of free soloing is that there’s no room for a mistake. None.

Lithely built with a boyish face (and impish grin to match), Honnold is plainly cut from the extreme sport cloth, a focused young man driven to risk his life to undertake something the rest of us think is crazy. (Interestingly enough, the movie never straight-out asks him: “Why?”) Living in a van for nine years and prone to eat his stovetop dinners straight from the skillet, he’s an unassuming yet fascinating guy, a little shy and socially awkward (he admits to having to learn how to hug people in his early 20s), but stubbornly firm in his unwillingness to abandon his dangerous ambitions, much to his most recent girlfriend’s understandable chagrin.

After a couple of sidelining injuries and a false start, Honnold begins to scale El Capitan like a human insect in the last 20 minutes of Free Solo. You’re sure to fidget and squirm the higher he goes, haunted by an earlier sequence memorializing mountaineers who have died during a free solo ascent, including one whose chilling free fall was filmed. Even the documentary crew, composed of seasoned climbers and longtime friends, can barely watch their buddy painstakingly move up the peak, anguished by the possibility (God forbid) they may be complicit participants in Honnold’s demise. You’ll feel the same way too, but it won’t stop you from bearing witness to this near-miracle of human physical achievement in a film that does that accomplishment proud.

Showtimes

Wed., Oct. 17

1:00, 3:40, 6:35, 9:25

Fri., Oct. 19

11:20am, 2:05, 4:50, 7:30, 10:30

Sat., Oct. 20

10:25am, 1:05, 3:55, 6:35, 9:30

Sun., Oct. 21

11:20am, 2:00, 4:50, 7:35, 10:15

Mon., Oct. 22

11:45am, 2:30, 5:15, 7:00, 10:50

Tue., Oct. 23

2:15, 5:05, 7:50, 10:35
AFA 11:35am

Arbor Cinema @ Great Hills

9828 Great Hills Trail, 512/231-9742

Discounts daily before 6pm.

Wed., Oct. 17

CC 12:20, 2:50, 7:30, 10:00

Thu., Oct. 18

CC 12:20, 2:50, 7:30, 10:00

Fri., Oct. 19

CC 12:20, 2:50, 7:30, 10:00

Sat., Oct. 20

CC 12:20, 2:50, 7:30, 10:00

Sun., Oct. 21

CC 12:20, 2:50, 7:30, 10:00

Mon., Oct. 22

CC 12:20, 2:50, 7:30, 10:00

Tue., Oct. 23

CC 12:20, 2:50, 7:30, 10:00

Barton Creek Square (AMC)

2901 South Capital of Texas Hwy, 512/306-1991, www.amctheatres.com

Matinee discounts available before 4pm daily. Bring Your Baby matinees the first Tuesday of every month.

Wed., Oct. 17

10:20am, 12:50, 3:20, 6:10

Cinemark 20 and XD

N. I-35 & FM 1825, 512/989-8535

Cost for 3-D and XD shows is regular ticket price plus a premium.

Wed., Oct. 17

digital 11:45am, 11:45am, 2:25, 2:25, 5:00, 5:00, 7:35, 7:35, 10:15, 10:15
digital 11:45am, 11:45am, 2:25, 2:25, 5:00, 5:00, 7:35, 7:35, 10:15, 10:15

Sky Cinemas

13201 US-290, 512/457-0700, www.skycinemas.com

Wed., Oct. 17

12:00, 2:30, 3:20, 3:40, 5:00, 7:30, 9:00

Thu., Oct. 18

12:00, 2:30, 3:20, 3:40, 5:00, 7:30, 9:00

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 36 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi Films
Meru
Doc recounts efforts of American mountain climbers to ascend Meru Peak

Steve Davis, Sept. 4, 2015

Youssou N'Dour: I Bring What I Love
Seeming more like an electronic press kit than a bona fide documentary, this profile of the Senegalese singer is both welcome and lacking at the same time.

Marjorie Baumgarten, Aug. 14, 2009

More by Steve Davis
The Old Man & the Gun
Robert Redford has rarely shone more than in this true-crime tale

Oct. 5, 2018

Little Women
The Louisa May Alcott classic charmlessly updated

Sept. 28, 2018

KEYWORDS FOR THIS FILM

Free Solo, Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, Jimmy Chin

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Updates for SXSW 2019

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle