Don’t play in caves; see this movie.
“Thirteen Lives” is director Ron Howard’s best film since “Rush.” It’s a film that keeps us at the edge of our seats, while being emotionally challenged by its reenactment of the 2018 Tham Luang cave rescue. It featured twelve soccer players and their young coach, all of whom decided to explore the caves after a game, all unaware that a monsoon would soon flood them inside.
The rescue process was far from easy. It featured a number of people-from government officials to the police to the Navy SEAL to rescue workers-and lots of pumps and pipes to drain as much water as humanly possible. Time is running out as another monsoon is en route, and oxygen in the cave will be low soon. The parents are scared and angry, while the boys are hungry, but brave.
This is the kind of cave rescue biopic that “The 33” wanted to be and wasn’t. It doesn’t rely on goofy behaviors or lackluster narratives; it relies on the heart and humanity of the heroes and victims. It’s all about prioritizing, and saving those thirteen victims is a number 1 priority.
The movie also features some celebrity names who aren’t here to steal the picture and demand to be likable. There are British cave divers-Rick Stanton (Viggo Mortensen) and John Volanthen (Colin Farrell)-and anesthesiologist Richard Harris (Joel Edgerton). Rick doubts the boys can come out alive with all this water, John thinks about his little boy back at home (a father’s instinct), and Richard suggests they sedate the boys, so they can bring them out one-by-one. It sounds unorthodox, not to mention risky, but they need to, at least, try.
And they also have support from other divers: Chris Jewell (Tom Bateman) and Jason Mallinson (Paul Gleeson). They don’t have much basis as the other three divers do, but you still support these men in saving the boys.
Unlike his last four entries (“In the Heart of the Sea,” “Inferno,” “Solo: A Star Wars Story,” and “Hillbilly Elegy”), “Thirteen Lives” allows Howard to use all the time he needs to make sure the rescue mission is retold with time, consistence, and prioritizing. With some help from screenwriters William Nicholson (“Gladiator,” “Les Miserables”) and Don Macpherson, he actually uses as much effort as he can to entertain us. It’s about hope and courage, and my dad knows Howard is a filmmaker who can tell real stories with happy endings. That’s how optimistic my father is about this movie.
Among the Thai actors in the film, Teeradon Supapunpinyo plays the young coach named Ekkaphon Chanthawong with sincerity, as he believes he doesn’t deserve to be a hero for leading the boys into the caves. But he is assured that on the other hand, he is protecting them. He, Farrell, Mortsensen, Edgerton, and Bateman all win us over with their performances. They have their own aspects of the situation and how their characters adapt to what horrible conditions the recuse mission may consist.
“Thirteen Lives” runs for over 2 hours, and yet, you’re never bored by its reenactment. You know this is based on a true story, but you’re also interested in how Howard will pull it off. He doesn’t rely on the big stars to reel people in; he relies on the faith and courage within the story. Now this is the Ron Howard filmmaker we know and love.
Now Playing in Select Theaters
Streaming on Amazon Prime Video This Friday