Review: THE DAWN WALL Sets Its Sights High


The Dawn Wall is a solid documentary with some wonderful visuals and a highly inspirational message, although it could have been more exciting.
Entertainment Value
Technical Merit

The Dawn Wall is a new documentary, one of two about rock climbing in Yosemite (the other being Free Solo). This film follows climbers climbers Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson as they attempt to free climb the seemingly impossible Dawn Wall of El Capitan in Yosemite. It has been nominated for the PGA Award for Best Documentary Film.

Ultimately, it seems like this movie may have been hurt by being released so close to Free Solo. Their similar subject matter makes it difficult not to compare the two films, and there is a clear winner. That being said, this movie is still very good and it would be interesting to watch the two side-by-side to see how their stories complement each other.

This film just isn’t as exciting as Free Solo. The Dawn Wall focuses on the challenges the climbers face, whereas Free Solo focuses more on the danger the climbers face. It is human nature that we feel a rush of fear and excitement when we see people putting their lives on the line, and this movie didn’t have high enough stakes. It always seemed that even if the climbers failed, they were going to be safe.

dawn wall caldwell

Despite this, this film absolutely succeeds in its goal of being inspiring. This is definitely one of the most inspirational stories that you could possibly see all year. Jorgeson’s perseverance and Caldwell’s loyalty are extremely admirable and make them both great role models for generations to come. Their story is extraordinary, and it is because of their passion and dedication.

Jorgeson and Caldwell are both extremely sympathetic characters. The focus leans towards Caldwell, but the friendship between the two is documented over the course of the movie. It is interesting to see how they grow and learn from their experiences, much like how the filmmakers seem to want the audience to learn and be inspired.

dawn wall camp

The film is weighed down a bit by its subplots, though. This is more of a problem during the first half of the movie, as the climbing becomes even more prevalent in the second half, but it is still there throughout. Caldwell’s story in Kyrgyzstan, while relevant for context and characterization, is given too much screen time. That should have been cut down and more time given to the climb. The parts involving Caldwell’s ex-wife are also somewhat annoying.

However, the cinematography alone makes this film worth a watch. The camerawork is breathtakingly magnificent. One of the biggest benefits of climbing documentaries is that they let you see the beauty of the world without you having to do any of the work itself. This documentary definitely offers plenty of that.

Overall, The Dawn Wall is a solid documentary. Although it may not be as exciting as it could be, it is still very inspirational and has wonderful cinematography.

The Dawn Wall is now available to rent or own.


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Sean Boelman
Sean is a film student, aspiring filmmaker, and life-long cinephile. For as long as he can remember, he has always loved film, but he credits the film Pan's Labyrinth as having started his love of film as art. Sean enjoys watching many types of films, although some personal favorite genres include dramatic comedies, romantic comedies, heist films, and art horror.


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