According to most Yosemite Valley guides, it should take the average rock climber anywhere from three to five days to scale the 3,000-foot-high "Nose" of the El Capitan formation. Pepe Danquart's To The Limit watches as brothers Thomas and Alexander Huber attempt to complete the ascent in two and a half hours, setting a new world record. Much of climbing is about preparation, precision, and caution, but in order to make good time, the Hubers have to skimp a little on the elements that make rock climbing safe. They're in line with one of their American climbing colleagues, who says, "To make it rich, you have to put in an element of risk."
To The Limit is full of a lot of talk about "risk" and "dreams" and "making the impossible possible," and Danquart's stabs at making this an inspirational tale can be a little exhausting. (The less said about the staged nightmare sequence, the better.) But even if To The Limit had nothing else going for it but breathtaking mountaintop cinematography, that'd still be enough to recommend it. Shot on a combination of film and highly cinematic HD, the documentary captures the Hubers' multiple runs at The Nose—some practice, some for real—at a range so close and dynamic that Danquart's crew's feats are almost more impressive than the brothers'. Danquart's cameras are right up there on the mountain, framing the Hubers head-on in shots that look completely normal until the viewer realizes that the backdrop behind these two men is made up of treetops and grass.
Luckily though, there is more to To The Limit than just pretty pictures. The movie is both a study in human endurance and a sketch of two men whose fraternal love sometimes curdles into disgust. Alexander is handsome, quiet, and even-keeled, while Thomas is wirier in every sense of the word, and more than a little annoyed at the attention his brother gets from the international sporting press. One moment, in a gesture of familial intimacy, they're biting the tape off each other's hands; the next, they're passive-aggressively giving each other the silent treatment. One of their fellow climbers says, "We're drawn so powerfully to what we do that we almost don't have a choice." But when it comes to the Hubers, "what they do" isn't just rock-climbing, it's one-upmanship.