Review: ‘The Alpinist’

At one point during Peter Mortimer and Nick Rosen’s documentary The Alpinist, the filmmakers remark that it was terrifying filming mountain climber Marc-Andre Leclerc do his adventurous thing. I can say the feeling of watching is mutual. Full of vertical drone shots and hair raising helmet selfies, the documentary certainly puts the viewer in a vertigo-inducing state of affairs. If the documentary didn’t do such a thing, then it definitely wouldn’t be doing its job.

Unlike the world renowned Alex Honnold, Marc-Andre isn’t as well known. In fact, the filmmakers only discovered him through obscure blog posts from other mountain climbers praising and sharing the young Canadian’s free climbing of treacherous peaks and slopes.

His style is unique. Never practicing his routes up the mountain, carrying only the minimal amount of equipment he might need, and tackling such deadly terrain as ice waterfalls, Marc-Andre quickly became a legend among other climbers. This is when the filmmakers decided to make a film about him, perhaps spurred on by the audience success of Free Solo (2018). A much more endearing personality than Honnold (although way more socially awkward, which sort of gives him a loopy charm) The Alpinist does its best to keep up with Marc-Andre both on and off the inclines.

Filming his many wide-eyed climbs through aerial footage and carefully choreographed people on the mountains beside him, the film becomes an incremental study of the focus and passion exhibited by Leclerc. His climbs may seem crazy to us watching, but the natural ability and precision with which he slinks along is mind blowing.

His otherworldly natural abilities aside, The Alpinist also makes the case that anyone who dangles freely from a mountain belongs to a different sect, as is the case with Leclerc when, after the mood strikes him as claustrophobic with all the posing and attention from this crew and other magazine paparazzi, he disappears from the film. It’s only through the social media posts of girlfriend Brette Harrington that Mortimer and Rosen find him in the far reaches of Alaska, South America and other destinations unknown pursuing the pure challenge of climbing without the fanfare. It’s akin to a lead actor walking off the set. Good thing this is a documentary where the filmmakers can work around such a thing.

Through the involvement and interviews of his mother and friends, The Alpinist gives a full bodied treatment of Leclerc and the dangerous art of free solo climbing. Even many of his admirers shake their heads at his exploits. But the film also makes clear that people like Marc-Andre are probably the ones who fly closest (and most magically) nearest the sun.

The Alpinist opens in the Dallas/Fort Worth area on Friday September 10th at the following locations: AMC Mesquite 30, Firewheel 18, Parks at Arlington 18 and Stonebriar 24. It also opens at the Alamo Cedars Downtown Dallas and Cinemark Legacy 24 and West Plano locations.