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Home»Review»Thirteen Lives review: A gripping retelling of the Thai cave rescue mission»

Thirteen Lives review: A gripping retelling of the Thai cave rescue mission

Oscar-winning director Ron Howard helms the film which stars Viggo Mortensen and Colin Farrell

  • Arya Harikumar

Last Updated: 10.06 AM, Aug 05, 2022

Thirteen Lives review: A gripping retelling of the Thai cave rescue mission

Story: On 23 June 2018, twelve members of a junior football team and their coach are trapped inside the Tham Luang Nang Non cave in northern Thailand following unprecedented heavy rains. What follows is a tremendous global effort to rescue and bring them out alive.

Review: Making a film on a real-life incident that was widely televised across the globe is not the easiest of tasks. Not only did the Thai cave rescue mission receive great public and media attention, but it also became the subject of films and documentaries, including the award-winning 2021 documentary, The Rescue. And although most of the facts related to the operation are out in the open, in Thirteen Lives, the latest film on the near-impossible mission, Oscar-winning director Ron Howard manages to keep the audience guessing till the very end and present a compelling story with plenty of thrills and drama.

Thirteen Lives wastes no time in getting into the thick of the action. It opens with the boys and their coach heading to the cave following a practice session. Before we know it, the cave gets flooded due to an unexpected downpour, leaving the team trapped. From this juncture onwards, the film is told through the perspectives of the rescue workers, the families of the boys, the volunteers, the local civilians, and government officials. Joining the rescue mission are two expert cave rescue divers from the UK, Rick Stanton (Viggo Mortensen) and John Volanthen (Colin Farrell). They locate the boys and the coach but bringing them alive out of the cave after a five-to-seven-hour dive through narrow crannies, is something they are not optimistic about. How they manage to successfully rescue the young boys and their coach, and the measures they undertake to complete the mission form the final act of the film.

Howard is aware of what he wants and how he hopes to execute it. He presents us with a nail-biting experience, especially in the second half, and draws us towards the characters in the film. This shouldn’t come as a surprise as he has already proved his talent in deriving thrilling and riveting narratives out of true stories with films such as Apollo 13 and Rush. Thirteen Lives can be considered on par or if not better than some of his best works. William Nicholson’s screenplay allows us to feel the stress, frustration, and agony of all those involved in this daunting mission which lasted for 18 days.

The film excels in its technical aspects, and significant effort has gone into recreating the cave and diving scenes. Sayombhu Mukdeeprom’s cinematography brilliantly captures the claustrophobia in the depths of the caves. Underwater sequences constitute a majority of the film’s runtime, and we find ourselves glued to the screens every time a diver races against time to get a boy to safety. The film is no doubt a visual treat. The sound design enhances the film to a great extent. Every sound, including the clinging of oxygen cylinders, the deep breaths underwater, or the gushing of rainwater, accentuates the overall aesthetic of the film.

Howard and Nicholson deserve plaudits for ensuring an authentic representation of Thai culture in the film. The screenplay also delves into the history of the cave and the legend of the princess after whom the cave is named. Additionally, almost half of the dialogues in the film are in Thai.

Although the film features actors such as Viggo Mortensen and Colin Farrell, it is the supporting cast of Thai actors that steals the spotlight. Sahajak Boonthanakit plays the governor who is supposed to call the tough shots, Pattrakorn Tungsupakul is the coach who instills confidence and faith among the boys while they are trapped in the cave, and Gerwin Widjaja portrays the groundwater engineer who rallies an entire village behind him to divert the rainwater from the mountain to the fields.

Mortensen’s Rick comes across as a very pragmatic individual who doesn’t set his hopes high. In one of the scenes, he even tells the governor that it was practically impossible to get the boys out alive. Whereas John, played by Farrell, is optimistic and promises the kids that they will be rescued. Joel Edgerton has limited screen time in the film but his role is crucial to the plot.

Verdict: Over 5,000 people from 17 countries were part of this momentous rescue mission. Thirteen Lives is not merely a film about what went behind the operation. It is also an extraordinary story that showcases human resilience and community spirit at their best.