FREE SOLO – Review by Susan Granger

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What kind of person risks life and limb to climb the treacherous face of Yosemite National Park’s famous 3,200-foot granite wall, known as El Capitan, without a rope or any other safety equipment? Seemingly carefree daredevil Alex Honnold has completed more than 1,000 solitary climbs and is thought to be the world’s greatest surviving free-soloist.

Recalling an emotionally isolated childhood in Sacramento, California, and a “bottomless pit of self-loathing,” Alex keeps a meticulously detailed journal about his mountaineering, noting every hand and foot placement.

A self-confessed ‘dork’ and ‘loner,’ ascetic Alex eats cans of beans warmed on a hotplate and lives in a white, minimally equipped van – without a bathroom. He dates occasionally but declares that he “will always choose climbing over a lady.”

At a book-signing for his memoir “Alone on the Wall,” Alex meets cheery Sanni McCandless, who shares Alex’s climbing passion. “I’m patient,” she says, supportively. “But I also have self-respect.”

Chronicled by his longtime friend/collaborator Jimmy Chin and his wife Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelvi (“Meru”), along with cinematographers Clair Popkin and Mikey Schaefer, this thoughtful documentary delves into Alex’s thrill-seeking motivations, including his receiving an MRI to see if his brain is askew.

Analysis of that test reveals that Alex’s amygdala (the brain’s fear center) requires unusually high levels of stimulation before the fear response actually kicks in.

His troubled mother, Dierdre Wolownick, wonders if he’s on the Asperger’s spectrum, although Alex recalls that one of her favorite sayings was: “Almost doesn’t count. As his fatalistic friend/veteran climber Tommy Caldwell notes “Everybody who has made soloing a big part of their live…is dead now.”

There’s no doubt that the 20-minutes covering Alex’s historic, less-than-four-hour climb on June 3, 2017 is tension and vertigo-inducing, particularly on the big-screen.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Free Solo” is an awesome, intense 8, particularly appealing to extreme sports enthusiasts.

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Susan Granger

Susan Granger is a product of Hollywood. Her natural father, S. Sylvan Simon, was a director and producer at R.K.O., M.G.M. and Columbia Pictures; her adoptive father, Armand Deutsch, produced movies at M.G.M. As a child, Susan appeared in movies with Abbott & Costello, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Margaret O'Brien and Lassie. She attended Mills College in California, studying journalism with Pierre Salinger, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, Phi Beta Kappa, with highest honors in journalism. During her adult life, Susan has been on radio and television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic. Her newspaper reviews have been syndicated around the world, and she has appeared on American Movie Classics cable television. In addition, her celebrity interviews and articles have been published in REDBOOK, PLAYBOY, FAMILY CIRCLE, COSMOPOLITAN, WORKING WOMAN and THE NEW YORK TIMES, as well as in PARIS MATCH, ELLE, HELLO, CARIBBEAN WORLD, ISLAND LIFE, MACO DESTINATIONS, NEWS LIMITED NEWSPAPERS (Australia), UK DAILY MAIL, UK SUNDAY MIRROR, DS (France), LA REPUBBLICA (Italy), BUNTE (Germany), VIP TRAVELLER (Krisworld) and many other international publications through SSG Syndicate. Susan also lectures on the "Magic and Mythology of Hollywood" and "Don't Take It Personally: Conquering Criticism and other Survival Skills," originally published on tape by Dove Audio.