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The Alpinist
The Alpinist movie poster

The Alpinist Movie Review

There are some people who like to climb vertical shafts of ice or sky-reaching mountains with nothing more than their hands and a pickaxe. And then there are others, like me, who prefer to stay home, sit on the couch, and watch documentaries about people who like to climb vertical shafts of ice or sky-reaching mountains with nothing more than their hands and a pickaxe.

The Alpinist is my latest excursion into the harrowing world of mountain climbs, and by excursion, I mean hitting “play” on my TV. I find mountain climbers, or at least many of their climbs, absolutely fascinating, and have read countless books and watched many a movie about them as a result. I also find them completely foreign, or as my wife, who is scared of heights, would say, “fucking idiots who are asking for death.”

Needless to say, The Alpinist is my jam, even if I will never understand the mindset of its subject matter, the young Marc-André Leclerc, who loves to climb solo in the most treacherous places on the planet. Unlike most other climbers, Leclerc doesn’t seem to have much of an ego - he doesn’t care about attention, notoriety, or records, though he does seek to do things no one else has ever done before.

In some ways, he makes for a dull protagonist; as stimulating as his climbs are, he’s the kind of guy who, in an interview, will just sort of shrug his shoulders and say “I just want to climb.” Or as directors Peter Mortimer and Nick Rosen discover, and portray, in their documentary, he’ll sometimes vanish to go climb a new mountain without even letting the film crew know.

But when Leclerc, and the filmmakers, get on the mountain, The Alpinist ascends to new heights. As previously seen in Free Solo, one of the most breathtaking and stress-inducing documentaries ever made, climbing docs have evolved to take advantage of high-resolution footage and powerful cinematography techniques driven by drones that breathe a new degree of energy and dynamism into their productions. The Alpinist, as a result, is a beautiful film to behold.

Even still, it has elements of “old school” documentaries that hold it back in some ways. Mortimer and Rosen take their time getting going; the first 20 minutes or so of its brief 93-minute runtime are a bit of a slog, as they seem to care little about diving into the action (again, it doesn’t help that Leclerc isn’t the most stimulating on-screen subject). And despite the hair-raising climbs that Leclerc embarks upon, the filmmakers aren’t quite able to match the epic suspense found in Free Solo.

And yet, Leclerc is such a fearless climber that the appeal of The Alpinist is undeniable. Once he starts climbing, the documentary ratchets up quickly and never lets go. 

Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.

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