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Thirteen Lives (Movie Review)


The Film


Director Ron Howard and screenwriter William Nicholson have crafted a very realistic account of an against-all-odds mission to rescue a group of boys and their coach from certain death in a flooded cave in Thailand.

The title of this Ron Howard-directed docudrama, Thirteen Lives, refers to twelve boys on a Thai junior football team and their assistant coach Ekkaphon Chanthawong (Terradon Supapynpinyo) who get trapped in the Tham Luang cave. Based on true events, this film chronicles a 17-day period beginning on June 23, 2018 when a heavy downpour flooded the cave and cut off the boys and their coach more than 4 kilometers from the cave’s entrance.

Frantic parents call Chiang Rai Province’s emergency services, prompting the arrival of the Royal Thai Navy SEALs  who are not experienced in cave-diving. Vernon Unsworth (Lewis Fitz-Gerald), a British cave-explorer living in the Province, advises the authorities to contact the British Cave Rescue Council (BCRC). Two BCRC members, Richard “Rick” Stanton (Viggo Mortensen) and John Volanthen (Colin Farrell), fly to Thailand and begin a series of cave dives that eventually locate the boys and their coach. Realizing that this will be a very complex rescue mission, the pair buy some time by having three Thai SEALs bring them much-needed food and water. The SEALs use up their oxygen and must now wait to be rescued with the thirteen already trapped there.

To reduce the cave’s water level and make the mission easier,  a Bangkok water technician gets local farmers to divert water from the cave into their fields, knowing it will ultimately destroy their crops (the government will later compensate them). Stanton and Volanthen recruit two experienced BCRC divers, Chris Jewell (Tom Bateman) and Jason Mallinson (Paul Gleeson) for the mission. Since it will take six hours from where the group is trapped to get them to the cave entrance, the divers must devise a daring plan to get everyone out alive.

Stream Thirteen Lives on Amazon Prime Video

Oxygen saturation in the cave is steadily declining, adding urgency to an already urgent situation when new team member, anesthetist Dr. Richard Harris, is brought in. He will  undertake a risky rescue strategy that has never been done before—sedate the boys and their coach after they have donned wetsuits, masks, and oxygen equipment. The divers will then carry each unconscious person to safety. This unconventional plan is presented to Provincial Governor Narongsak Osatanakorn (Sahajak Boonthanakit) who approves it with full knowledge that there are no other options to bring out survivors from the cave.

While the eventual outcome of this highly publicized cave rescue mission is well-known, Oscar-winning director Howard and twice-Oscar-nominated screenwriter William Nicholson manage to deliver a compelling account of an against-all-odds rescue mission. They receive good support from a cast led by Viggo Mortensen and Colin Farrell and a large group of local Thai actors. Kudos also go to cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom whose cameras deliver the in-person experience of how claustrophobic and hazardous cave-diving can become. But perhaps this is also the film’s dramatic drawback since the numerous diving sequences add to the considerable length of this film often without advancing much of the storyline. On the other hand, the cameras give a very realistic portrayal of the chaos generated in the temporary village set up for the families, curious onlookers, the ubiquitous press, and the large international rescue teams during an event that attracted worldwide interest. What comes across time and again is the difficulty imposed by language barriers, political agendas, and the challenges of coordinating such a huge effort. For those who want a shorter take on the events of the 2018 Tham Luang mission, there is the 2021 documentary The Rescue that tells the story more succinctly and without cutting any corners. The low-budget 2019 Thai documentary The Cave about this story is skippable. Thirteen Lives will be an entertaining watch particularly for viewers who want to see a recreation of what was deemed “mission impossible” even by some of the divers themselves. Highly recommended.

Thirteen Lives is streaming now on Amazon Prime Video

  • Rating Certificate: PG-13 (or some strong language and unsettling images)
  • Studios & Distributors: Storyteller Productions | Magnolia Mae Films | Imagine Entertainment | BRON Creative| MGM | Amazon Prime Video
  • Country: USA | Thailand
  • Language: English | Thai
  • Run Time: 147 Mins.
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1
  • Director: Ron Howard
  • Written By: William Nicholson
  • Release Date: 5 August 2022

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Director Ron Howard and screenwriter William Nicholson have crafted a very realistic account of an against-all-odds mission to rescue a group of boys and their coach from certain death in a flooded cave in Thailand.Thirteen Lives (Movie Review)