Thirteen Lives is the feature film dramatization of the 2018 Thai cave rescue of twelve boys and their football coach, now available to watch on Amazon Prime. Directed by Ron Howard, the film gives an informative and interesting take on the story but ultimately fails to deliver anything truly memorable.
The film opens with the twelve boys playing football alongside their coach. After practice, they decide to visit the local Tham Luang cave before heading to a planned birthday party organised by their parents, with only one boy staying behind to help with the party preparations. After entering the cave a terrible storm starts, flooding the caves and trapping the boys inside. On missing the planned birthday party, the boy’s parents raise the alarm and the Royal Thai Navy Seals arrive at the caves, led by Captain Arnont (Theerapat Sajakul).
Governor Narongsak (Sahajak Boonthanakit) arrives on the scene to discover the SEALs have been unable to find the boys as the flooded caves are too difficult to navigate. Local guide Vern Unsworth (Lewis Fitz-Gerald) shares his knowledge of the caves and advises the Governor to get in touch with the British Cave Rescue Council to find divers that are experienced in traversing such difficult conditions. In England, divers Rick Stanton (Viggo Mortensen) and John Volanthen (Colin Farrell) watch the news stories about the boys and head to Thailand to offer their assistance. Meanwhile, Thanet Natisri (Nophand Boonyai), a water engineer, utilises the help of local villagers to divert the rainwater away from the caves to assist with the rescue.
Rick and John finally locate the boys in a partly submerged cave 4km away from the entrance. Realising there is no alternative exit and the boys would have to be removed from the cave by way of a 6-hour dive, Rick and John recruit fellow divers Rick Harris (Joel Edgerton), Jason Mallinson (Paul Gleeson) and Chris Jewell (Tom Bateman) to work together alongside the SEALS to exact a rescue mission before the caves flood completely.
Ron Howard has certainly proved that he knows what he’s doing when it comes to dramatizing true life stories, as the likes of Rush and Apollo 13 have proved. However, I feel like he may have missed the mark a little here. The story of the cave rescue is undoubtedly impressive and as I knew little about how they actually did it, I found it fascinating. But aside from the underwater diving scenes, the rest of the film feels quite lacklustre. To start with, the film spends very little time with the boys themselves. We don’t even see them get trapped, we see them going into the caves and their parents’ reactions to them being missing, with little in between. Considering how terrifying it must have been for them and with an already inflated runtime of 2.5 hours, not allocating some of this time to show the boys coped feels like a mistake.
The drama unfolding outside of the diving scenes feels a little muted, and it’s only with the extended underwater scenes that you feel any real scene of danger or suspense. The cave scenes themselves look fantastic and the entire film looks and feels incredibly real. However, the constant cutting to and from the caves to the action on the surface kills a lot of the suspense that has been built. The performances from all involved too are good and I will admit to loving some of the very English references to custard creams. Still, it’s only Joel Edgerton’s Dr Harris that brings any real charisma to the proceedings with the rest of the characters feeling a little one-dimensional and underdeveloped.
Overall Thirteen Lives has a good cast and some interesting features, but sadly it’s let down by how the story has been told and a lengthy runtime that doesn’t focus on the most important thing of all.
A contract manager moonlighting as a rather discerning film and book critic, with an almost fangirl appreciation for anything made by Christopher Nolan. When I’m not catching up on my latest read or watch, you can usually find me trying out my amateur baking skills – Bake Off here I come!