On June 23, 2018, twelve soccer players and their coach were trapped in the Tham Luang Nang Non cave in Thailand. Thirteen lives tells the story of the rescue effort, starring Viggo Mortensen and Colin Farrell as two cave divers who enter the flooded cave to rescue the boys. Those who remember the worldwide news coverage of the event or those who have seen the 2021 documentary The rescue will have a knowledge of the history of this film that can lead to a nothing but enjoyable experience. But when someone introduced the event through this movie, I found it to be a gripping, suspenseful movie that succeeds in narrating actual events.
This film comes to us from Ron Howard, who proves to be one of the most versatile directors working in Hollywood. You would never guess the same person directed A beautiful mind, How the Grinch Stole Christmasand Solo: A Star Wars Story. He has helped phenomenal work in the past. While he has had a few fumbles recently Hell and Hillbilly Elegythis film is Howard’s return to form as a cinematically rich, riveting account of one of the most miraculous events of recent times.
Howard does phenomenal work on this film, with great attention to sound design and a grounded look at this daring rescue. He uses the music sparingly throughout, offering long moments of quiet tension where you feel immersed in the dark, wet cave environment. His direction complements William Nicholson’s script very well as this film has a fast first act that gets the story going right away. This is the type of film that doesn’t present itself as flashy or stylish, but feels more like an objective look at everything people did to save the boys trapped in the cave.
You can easily forget you’re watching a movie given how exciting the story is. Part of that is due to the performances, with the talent of Mortensen and Farrell up front. Earlier this year these two did an excellent job Crimes of the future and Batman, respectively, and watching them together is something to behold as they disappear into their characters. Everything about this film feels naturalistic rather than flashy, creating a tone that works perfectly for the film’s events. While the characters can sometimes be kept at a distance, the story is strong enough to keep you watching.
Howard addresses this film to those unfamiliar with the events. He focuses more on the rescuers than the boys stuck in the cave, leaving the audience to wonder if they are alive. This movie builds bets on bets and so on Thirteen lives continues, it’s clear that the odds are getting slimmer and slimmer that the boys will all make it out of the cave. A ticking clock runs throughout the film as Howard keeps the audience in tune with how long the boys have been trapped and how long it takes to swim into the cave.
At two and a half hours long, the film can feel like a heavy undertaking with time perhaps better spent watching The rescue. Howard does a lot with this movie though. A claustrophobic, suspenseful survival film that knows how to tell its story, Thirteen lives doesn’t get boring once. The characters have a clear goal and you will be drawn into the mystery of how they will succeed in their goal. This is a fascinating story and it is told right.
Like ComingSoon’s audit policy explains, a score of 8 corresponds to “Fantastic”. Although there are a few minor issues, this score means that the art succeeds in its goal and leaves a memorable impact.
Disclosure: The critic attended a press screening for ComingSoon’s Thirteen lives review.