Dawn Wall, The (2017)

Even non-climbing enthusiasts will fall in love with Tommy Caldwell in this well-made documentary as he and his climbing partner attempt to free climb a route up the legendary El Capitan that had been deemed impossible to scale.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Review #2,261

Dir. Josh Lowell & Peter Mortimer
2017 | USA/Austria | Documentary/Biography/Sport | 100 mins | English
PG13 (passed clean) for some coarse language

Plot: In an unbelievable story of perseverance, free climber Tommy Caldwell and climbing partner Kevin Jorgeson attempt to scale the impossible 3000ft Dawn Wall of El Capitan.
International Sales: Red Bull Media House

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate/Inspiring – Perseverance, Ambition
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Pace: Normal
Audience Type: Slightly Mainstream

Viewed: Netflix
Spoilers: No

I first heard of The Dawn Wall because of Free Solo (2018), so it has been on my watchlist for quite some time.  After learning that it will leave Netflix, I decided that it was time to give it a go.  I wasn’t disappointed at all and it got me following the exploits of Tommy Caldwell (who was also prominently featured in Free Solo). 

I have no interest in rock climbing whatsoever, but these two documentaries have made me marvel at not just the insanity of it all, but also the subjects’ courage to pursue lifelong dreams even if they may be extremely perilous ones. 

“It’s like stepping off the edge of the Earth.”

One thing that The Dawn Wall does well, is its commitment to the backstory of Caldwell and also his climbing partner Kevin Jorgeson, so much so that we are made to understand what they had been through to reach the proper physical and mental state to be able to consider the attempt of their lives—which is to free climb a route up the legendary El Capitan that had been deemed impossible to scale.  Many climbers have conquered El Capitan through other routes, but not this one up the face of ‘the dawn wall’. 

Captured by an array of cameras (kudos to the folks who had to operate the cameras at such risky, dizzying heights) that detail, sometimes in extraordinary close-ups of fingers and shoes as Caldwell and Jorgeson perform their intricate moves, The Dawn Wall is an excellent document of their accomplishment as the duo captivated the world with their perseverance living off the face of the 3,000ft rock for 19 days in hopes of reaching the summit.

Grade: B+


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