“Thirteen Lives” stars Viggo Mortensen, Colin Farrell, Joel Edgerton, Tom Bateman, and Sukollawat Kanarot. Released in theaters on July 29, 2022, followed by a Prime Video release on August 5, 2022, the film has a group of cave divers rescuing a junior football team trapped in a flooded cave.
The film was directed by Ron Howard, who also directed films such as “Night Shift”, “Apollo 13”, “A Beautiful Mind”, and “Rush”. Many stories involving rescue missions tend to get a lot of talk from people. Some of them are minor, while others are so miraculous they changed our outlook on the world and proved there’s still some hope left in humanity. I know it sounds corny at this point, but trust me when I say that we all need hope once in a while. This unbelievable tale is an example of the latter, as it marked an impressive feat in cave diving history. The 2018 Tham Luang cave rescue was one for the ages, as it had the Navy SEALs and cave divers rescuing the football team members trapped inside a cave against all odds. Considering how impossible it looked, I was impressed with how much they accomplished during this daunting task. Because of the legacy it left behind, it didn’t take long for many authors and filmmakers to document this daring event via books and movies, with the recent one being the 2021 documentary from National Geographic titled “The Rescue”. Now, award-winning director Ron Howard is taking a crack at bringing the cave rescue to life via a survival drama. Does it mark another exciting take on one of the most incredible rescue missions in human history? Let’s find out.
The film’s story follows the events of the 2018 Tham Luang cave rescue that lasted for 18 days. The twelve members of the junior football team and their assistant coach, Ekkaphon Chanthawong (Teeradon Supapunpinyo), leave to explore the cave following their ordinary day of practice. Unfortunately, an unexpected monsoon caused the cave to be flooded, leaving the team stranded with no way out. This resulted in their families alerting emergency services to try to rescue them. When the Royal Thai Navy SEALs find the dive challenging to locate the team, they seek the help of the British Cave Rescue Council. Led by Richard Stanton (Mortensen) and John Volanthen (Farrell), the cavers race against time and Mother Nature to get the team out of the complex cave before it’s too late.
I’ve only remembered hearing bits and pieces of this event on television and through social media. From what I can recall, it was a nerve-wracking experience for my family to hear. It’s even hard for me to imagine being in that situation for 18 days without food, water, or even oxygen. Yet, this was the intention made for the novels and documentaries depicting the Tham Luang cave rescue: to capture the gripping experience of accomplishing the impossible. “Thirteen Lives” seeks to use modern filmmaking techniques to reach a similar feat as the source materials that came before it. While its intention was far from extraordinary, the film is a solid representation of a rescue mission that not only shocked the world but also united it.
You can’t go wrong with Ron Howard regarding his ability to tell absorbing stories through his simple and imaginative vision. Howard’s sense of direction resulted in some of his best works, including “Apollo 13” and “A Beautiful Mind”. However, his vision doesn’t mesh well with every concept he comes across, with “Inferno” and “Hillbilly Elegy” being some of his weakest movies to date. Fortunately, I am happy to say that “Thirteen Lives” is Ron Howard at his best, as he provided a consistent amount of tension and realism in the drama and scuba diving sequences to get my heart pumping. I would even say it’s a healthy improvement over his last couple of films in the post-“Rush” era.
The movie’s screenplay by William Nicholson mainly focuses on the overall event and the people who took part in the rescue mission that lasted for 18 days. The film doesn’t waste much time exploring the characters further before, during, and after the cave rescue. Considering that it’s close to two and a half hours long, I found this approach somewhat unexpecting. While it does help in keeping specific audiences invested in the dialogue and cave diving scenes, it can also cause others to lose interest in some of its characters due to their lack of strong backgrounds. Even its beefy runtime can be a bit of a chore for some people, as there were a couple of scenes that dragged on a bit too long. Despite that, I found myself constantly engaged in the scenario that’s authentically restrained and thrilling.
Part of that is due to its cast of talented actors. The characters of Richard Stanton and John Volanthen were successfully brought to life by Viggo Mortensen and Colin Farrell, respectively. Mortensen continues to recapture my attention with his acting, and Farrell is just as compelling as ever. Joel Edgerton and Tom Bateman also delivered some solid performances as Richard Harris and Chris Jewell. I would also credit the film for having several Thai actors in the project, including Sukollawat Kanarot as Saman Kunan, a former Thai Navy SEAL. With the film set in Thai, it makes sense for the movie to provide some diversity to make the representation of the country accurate.
Overall, “Thirteen Lives” is a gripping and solidly-crafted depiction of the world’s greatest rescue mission, even though its narrative came close to matching its tense scenario. Unfortunately, its runtime was a bit excessive for its own good, and it didn’t give itself enough room to develop specific characters further. Other than that, the film is a welcoming return to form for Ron Howard, who had hit a slump throughout the last few years. With its talented cast, Howard’s direction, and suitable script, the movie marks another decent addition to the list of media showcasing the rescue that inspired the world. If you have Amazon Prime and are a fan of films based on real-life rescue attempts, this is worth checking out.