If Honnold thinks you’re pushing it too far, you probably are.
That said, if your stomach can take the tension, have at this tale of derring-do, from which is hard to look away, even at its most terrifying.
It takes a special kind of person to do what Honnold and other climbers interviewed for this film do, and what we see Leclerc himself doing over the two years that filmmakers Peter Mortimer and Nick Rosen spent following him, sometimes against Leclerc’s wishes to be followed. (In “Free Solo,” we learned that Honnold’s amygdala, the part of the brain that controls our emotional response to frightening stimuli, doesn’t work the way most people’s do. Watching footage of Leclerc, it’s easy to imagine a similar wiring.)
Mixing talking-head interviews with such climbing pioneers as Reinhold Messner, as well as Leclerc’s mother, Michelle Kuipers, and his girlfriend, Brette Harrington, with climbing footage, some of which was shot by Leclerc, the filmmakers tell a story that goes deeper than the jaw-dropping visuals, physics and emphasis on mental focus. As filmmaker/climber Jimmy Chin and his co-director Elizabeth Vasarhelyi did in “Free Solo,” Mortimer and Rosen are interested in understanding what makes someone do the things we see on screen, and not just the fact that they were done.
There is a revealing narrative here: a conflict, a climax and a denouement that you may not expect. “The Alpinist” has built-in drama, simply by virtue of who and what it sets out to document. As Messner says of this level of climbing, for an athlete like Leclerc, the possibility of death must exist, or else the challenge is like “kindergarten.” As Messner also notes, at this elite level, half of all climbers have died in accidents.
Those are terrible odds. Yet “The Alpinist” is the story of the drive that leads men and women to meet them, at times to beat them, and in the end to accept them.
PG-13. At area theaters. Contains some strong language and brief discussion of drugs. 93 minutes.