Thirteen Lives 

Rating: 3 out of 5.

On June 23, 2018, a junior association soccer team went missing after setting out to explore the Tham Luang Nang Non cave in northern Thailand. The twelve boys aged between 11 and 16 and their 25-year-old assistant coach were on a sightseeing trip after a practice session. Shortly after entering, heavy rains overflowed the tunnel system, blocking their way out, and trapping them deep within. The subsequent attempt to rescue them became a massive operation that garnered worldwide public interest. Simply determining whether the children were even alive took days. British divers John Volanthen and Richard Stanton ultimately located the group on an elevated rock about 2.5 miles from the cavity opening. Wonderful news! Nevertheless, the ability to extract them from the flooded twisty cavern would be difficult. Even with scuba gear and guidance, the kids would likely panic during the long treacherous swim out.

There are so many perspectives from which to tell this epic tale. I was fascinated with the fortitude of the trapped victims. Somehow they survived over two weeks in a pitch-black cavern without food. Once discovered, there is mention of meditation. Their perseverance through prayer and hope is undoubtedly a fascinating saga. The details of their struggle are mentioned in passing. However, we don’t see the boys for a large portion of the picture. Theirs is not the endeavor presented here.

This is a tale about the British divers played by Viggo Mortensen and Colin Farrell and Australian medical specialist Richard Harris portrayed by Joel Edgerton. They saved the day when everyone else — even the Navy SEALs — could not. A casual glance at the famous names in the cast does not suggest an account focused on the vulnerable victims. The fact that Ron Howard (Backdraft, Apollo 13) is directing should have clued me in that the effort to extricate them takes center stage. Ok, that’s an exciting perspective too. Those men were genuine heroes. Their commitment is an awe-inspiring consolidation of human ingenuity that saved lives.

Yet the chronicle is not produced in a way that maximizes the drama. It always felt like we were observing these events from a distance. The individuals here are two-dimensional characters that lack personality. I derive more emotion from footage on the 11’oclock news. The excitement improves in the second half when the claustrophobic, muddy-water environment conveys just how difficult it was to save these lives from the underground chamber. Yet Ron Howard and editor James D. Wilcox frequently cut to less interesting activities on land that kill the momentum. Furthermore, the developments plod for nearly 2 1/2 hours. I’m not saying it isn’t an uplifting experience. It’s currently the most watched title on Amazon Prime, after all. (Box office flop The 355 was the previous #1). Although, I enjoyed it more divided up over two nights.

This life-affirming tale is inherently captivating. It would be near impossible not to make a thrilling picture out of this piece of recent history. Ordinary people doing extraordinary things is universally compelling. These ripped from the headlines stories are even more effective because they’re true. Ron Howard and screenwriter William Nicholson (working from a story by Don MacPherson) offer a movie that inspired me to read up on the actual account and watch the award-winning (and more efficient) National Geographic documentary The Rescue (2021).

08-07-22

2 Responses to “Thirteen Lives ”

  1. This true story is fascinating. I enjoyed it a little more than you. It had very intense scenes that had me gasping for air. 3 1/2 ⭐️

    Liked by 1 person

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