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Thirteen Lives (A Movie Review)


Starring Viggo Mortensen, Colin Farrell, Joel Edgerton, Tom Bateman, Paul Gleeson, Sukollawat Kanarot, Thiraphat Sajakul, Sahajak Boonthanakit, Vithaya Pansringarm, James Teeradon Supapunpinyo, Nophand Boonyai, Lewis Fitz-Gerald, U Gambira, Ensai O'Haire, Blake McFarlane, Helen Cassidy, Jane Larkin and Kirsty Sturgess.

Screenplay by William Nicholson.

Directed by Ron Howard.

Distributed by Amazon Studios. 147 minutes. Rated PG-13.

I was vaguely aware of the international story four years ago in which twelve members and a coach of a Thai youth soccer team were trapped by flood waters deep inside Tham Luang cave for 18 days. I admit that I did not pay much attention to the details of the rescue attempts, but like everyone on the planet I was aware of what was happening.

It was one hell of a true story. In fact just in the few years since it happened, Thirteen Lives is the second feature film made about the incident and there was also an acclaimed documentary on the subject and a Netflix dramatic series in the works. However, again the other two films slipped past me, and I went into the screening of Thirteen Lives with only the most rudimentary knowledge of what happened.

Now I can truly say that I recognize why the rescues caught the imagination of the world. This is truly a fascinating look at man overcoming nature and a feel-good triumph.

From what I hear, this film is fairly faithful to the story as it occurred – although it cuts out many of the international forces who contributed to saving the boys. It mostly focuses on a group of six British divers and the local Thai forces who played a huge part in the rescue – but were not the entire story.

Director Ron Howard has said that he did not want to turn Thirteen Lives into a “white savior” narrative. For the most part he succeeds, making the Thai forces a strong part of the mission. (In a nice touch, Howard allows the Thais to speak in their own language with subtitles rather than pretending they were speaking English the whole time.)

British rescue divers Rick Stanton (Viggo Mortensen) and John Volantehen (Colin Farrell) did discover the boys alive ten days after getting trapped. They were stuck in the dark with no food and only each other to rely on.

Thus begins the wild race against time to get them out before Monsoon season starts in about a week. Stanton and Volantehen realize that there was no way that the kids would be able to handle the dive generally (after all, it takes six or seven hours underwater). The chances of them panicking was too present. So they come up with a radical idea.

They call a fellow diver, Australian Harry Harris (Joel Edgerton), who happens to be an anesthetist as his day job. Perhaps if they put the kids under and carry them like cargo, they can be saved. Harris fights with the physical and moral implications of the idea, but eventually agrees that it is the only chance.

In the meantime, everyday Thai people are working actively to dam up the area and keep the flooding from growing.

Thirteen Lives is a smart, old-fashioned Hollywood entertainment, ratcheting up the suspense and showing all of the hard work and ingenuity that goes into the rescue. Even though the audience knows the eventual outcome, it still imparts a real sense of danger and futility through much of the action. The underwater segments are particularly noteworthy, and one scene where a Thai Navy Seal becomes the only casualty of the rescue mission is particularly devastating.

Made in trying circumstances (during the pandemic, with director Ron Howard apparently doing much of his job via Zoom), Thirteen Lives is a surprisingly strong success. Even if it does not tell the whole story, it tells more than enough to keep the audience spellbound.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2022 All rights reserved. Posted: August 5, 2022.


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