Jared Leto, the Oscar-winning star of Dallas Buyer's Club, shows an unexpected side of himself in his new directorial effort - a multi-part documentary series on America's breathtaking national parks titled Great Wide Open. The film is more than just a picturesque travelogue. It's also a tribute to those who actively engage in these majestic natural wonders.
In the first episode, Leto introduces us to Tommy Caldwell, a self-proclaimed "super nerdy rock climber", who has garnered wide acclaim for redefining the meaning of commitment, endurance and thrill-seeking moxie. We see him dangling many thousands of feet in mid-air against the sun-kissed sweep of Yosemite's mountainous terrain, the site where he became the first free climber in history to ascend the Dihedral Wall in 2004. Caldwell's passion may keep him in closer physical proximity to the heavens than any of us, but he proves to be an incredibly down-to-earth presence as he takes Leto on his own challenging climb.
Climber Renan Ozturk dominates the second episode in the series. Not only is Ozturk an impressively accomplished climber, but he's also a professional cinematographer. By combining these two loves, he's produced astounding imagery appreciated by nature enthusiasts the world over. As he and Leto work as a team during one mountainous ascent, it becomes clear that Ozturk approaches climbing and photography with the same sense of artistic purity. Against these grand and sweeping environments, his art lives in the smallest details.
The series continues with Alex Honnold, another record-breaker who's never failed to inspire awe in the climbing community. Scaling unimaginable heights, and constantly touching the edge of mortality with each new challenge, he speaks candidly with Leto on the myriad of ways that climbing has informed his views on life and death. One wrong move could mean certain death, but there's a profound and grounding simplicity that one experiences while living in those moments. Similar sentiments are echoed by the subject of the final episode - wolf biologist Doug Smith - who provides a tour of the wildlife that roams amongst the plains of gorgeous Yellowstone National Park.
Great Wide Open challenges the perception of mountain climbers as something akin to Kamikaze daredevils. In each of these beautifully photographed and insightfully observed segments, we recognize each subject's enviable sense of inner calm, and admire their endless quest for grace among the wonders of the natural environment.