National Geographic doesn’t make arthouse films, but this comes pretty close. It’s the story of Alex Honnold, an intelligent and likable crazy person, and the passion, discipline and perfection he calls on in his preparation to scale, alone and without safety ropes, the world’s most famous rock, Yosemite’s 3200-foot (975-meter) El Capitan. As fellow climber Tommy Caldwell described soloing El Cap, “Imagine an Olympic-gold-medal-level athletic achievement that, if you don’t get that gold medal, you’re gonna die.
Only slightly less heroic is the husband-wife directing team of Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi (Meru), who used pre-positioned cameras, drones and a variety of innovative shooting techniques to capture the jaw-dropping action without disrupting Alex’s focus. The domestic scenes with his girlfriend Sanni, rather than being distracting, underline what he is risking. This is a spellbinding tale of unique athleticism and a top-notch adventure doc. It doesn’t matter a bit whether you’re into rock climbing. The white-knuckle climb itself during the film’s final 30 minutes was too tense for some of his crew to watch. Did he make it? Now, that would be a spoiler. Big screen, please. (100 min)