SYNOPSIS: In the true story of Thirteen Lives, twelve boys and the coach of a Thai soccer team explore the Tham Luang cave when an unexpected rainstorm traps them in a chamber inside the mountain. Entombed behind a maze of flooded cave tunnels, they face impossible odds. A team of world-class divers navigate through miles of dangerous cave networks to discover that finding the boys is only the beginning.
Understandably, some viewers might dismiss Ron Howard’s dramatization of the real-life Tham Luang cave rescue mission as a cheap cash-on and you are better off watching the documentary. No matter what you think of it, Thirteen Lives is honestly a very sincere retelling of the 2018 ordeal worth catching on the small screen.
With the exception of some minor pared down details according to Howard and screenwriter William Nicholson, Thirteen Lives for the most part remains faithful and under the direction of Howard who gave you Apollo 13 and A Beautiful Mind, the movie turned out to be a harrowing, claustrophobic experience despite the fact that nearly everyone knows about the operation and outcome.
For a start, it doesn’t take long for the adaptation to show you the kids and their coach from a junior football team being trapped in the flooded cave. And it doesn’t take long either for experienced British cave divers John Volanthen (Viggo Mortensen) and Richard Stanton (Colin Farrell) to be activated for the mission when the Thai Navy seals failed to find the boys on their initial attempt. At the same time, the narrative also involved the worried parents, a Thai-American engineer who helps to channel water out of the cave with other volunteering villagers and an outgoing Governor who might end up as the fall guy if things went awry.
It’s definitely a busy movie although the filmmakers pulled off the entire ordeal with such ease and tension that you won’t feel the long running time of nearly two and a half hours. While the white men might come off as saviors and that includes an Australian anesthetist Richard Harris (Joel Edgerton) who plays a major role in it and Chris Jewell (Tom Bateman), there are enough Thai supporting characters and dialogue to make it feel exotic and believable.
To be fair, the viewers didn’t get a full picture of the low-key rescuers as well other than John is an ex-fire fighter, Richard is divorced with a young son and Harris’ dad is hospitalized. Undoubtedly, this is a movie about the harrowing affair and there’s no way Howard is going to allow the story to lose its focus.
Besides the engaging storytelling, the production design on the whole is flawless and you probably can’t tell the movie is shot in both Australia and Thailand. Even the sound design by Michael Fentum and cinematography by Sayombhu Mukdeeprom is top notch so remember to get your soundbar ready for an immersive experience.
While there are a few mishaps in Ron Howard’s career, rest assured Thirteen Lives is going to rank among his finest works to date. Without resorting to cheap theatrics and melodrama, the flick is a testament to the human spirit. By far, a movie that surpassed many other theatrical releases this year.
Review by Linus Tee