An inspirational true story that will keep you on the edge of your seat
Ron Howard’s latest movie runs for a whopping 150 minutes so before sitting down with this true-life disaster movie, I wasn’t sure if I would have the patience to stay rooted in my seat for the duration of the running time. How foolish of me!
150 minutes is nothing compared to the 18 days that the Thai football team and their coach spent in the flooded Tham Luang cave and unlike the poor souls trapped inside those dark confines, I had snacks at hand, a comfortable sofa to lie back on, and a pause button to tap every time I needed a break from their trauma.
We can all forget how fortunate we are. It’s easy to grumble about a movie’s long-running time or another superficial inconvenience but when we compare our lives to those of the people who genuinely have something to complain about (such as the confined boys at the heart of this tale), we should take a step back and be thankful for what we have available to us.
Still, if you are unsure about sitting down on your sofa for two and a half hours, know this: Thirteen Lives is a thrilling and gripping movie, so despite your ‘discomfort’ when sitting down for too long, you are unlikely to come away from this thinking your time has been wasted.
The movie, as you probably know already, chronicles the attempt by real-life British divers Rick Stanton (Viggo Mortensen) and John Volanthen (Colin Farrell) – along with the many brave people who assisted them – to rescue the 13 people trapped inside the cold and dark labyrinthine cave system that became flooded after a heavy rainfall.
The football team entered into the caves in the June of 2018 to celebrate one of the boys’ birthdays but the torrential rain meant that their celebrations were cut short when they found themselves underground with no means of escape. After the boys failed to return home, their concerned parents called the local authorities and a rescue mission was then put in place to save the lives of the young footballers before further flooding happened.
A number of groups became involved in the mission, including the Thai Navy Seals, the Beijing Peaceland Foundation, the Australian Specialist Response Group, and the British Cave Rescue Council, the latter of which was represented by Stanton and Volanthen.
The mission to save the thirteen lives lost inside the cave wasn’t an easy one and despite the optimistic assurance of the Chiang Rai Governor that the boys would make it out alive, the mission wasn’t one that was destined to succeed.
If you know anything about the true story behind this movie, you will already know the outcome. But if you don’t, you will likely feel a sense of dread when watching, as the initial attempts by the Thai Navy Seals to rescue the boys go awry. The fact that this tale takes place during the Monsoon season will amplify any feelings of dread you feel as the rising floodwater starts to make life even more difficult for the people trying to bring the children and their coach back to safety.
But even if you do know how this story ends, you should still be gripped by the events that unfold. Everything is played out in a realistic fashion as Howard focuses more on the intricacies of the rescue attempt than the backstories of the trapped boys and the people who tried to rescue them. We learn little snippets about their lives – Volanthen has a family back home and Stanton has a liking for custard creams – but nothing too detailed so as not to distract from the complexities of the mission at hand.
The lack of any backstories doesn’t make the movie any less heart-wrenching. The sight of the frightened and hungry football team huddled together within the cave is enough to cause tears to flow due to the terrible nature of their plight. And as Stanton, Volanthen, and the rest of their crew battle valiantly against the treacherous flood waters, it is easy to become emotionally invested in their lives as we know one wrong move could lead to a watery grave for any one of them.
This really is tense stuff – more so if you don’t know how this story ends – and it remains gripping right through until the conclusion when the diving team are tasked with carrying the boys through the complicated cave system to safety.
The scenes of the divers underwater are sometimes dark and difficult to make out but this isn’t necessarily a misstep within Howard’s direction as these scenes are probably close to reality. The rescue team had to make their way through underwater tunnels where visibility was obviously an issue, so it’s only expected that some of the watery scenes are a little confusing. This isn’t to say every water-based scene is unclear, however, as there are times when the underwater photography ably captures the nail-biting aspects of the diving mission.
In terms of acting, everybody excels here. Farrell and Mortensen convince as the cave dive experts, whether they’re talking about the difficulty of their mission on dry land or navigating the waters within the cave system, and it’s easy to forget that they are actors and not the real cave divers who took part in the rescue.
Joel Edgerton and Tom Bateman who join the dive (the former as an anaesthesia expert who becomes essential to the mission), also give excellent performances, as do the young actors who are part of the junior football team.
Special mention must go to Teeradon Supapunpinyo, who plays the boys’ football coach, as he gives an achingly real performance as the man who feared backlash from the boys’ parents, despite being a heroic figure himself. The quality of the acting adds to the sense of realism that Howard is trying to create and as such, it is easy to become immersed in the rescue attempt as it unfolds on the screen.
Thirteen Lives is an inspirational and moving true story that is far more involving than I could ever have imagined. It’s currently available to stream on Amazon Prime so if you’re looking for a movie that will both restore your faith in humanity and keep you on the edge of your seat, this heartbreaking and suspenseful tale can be recommended.
Read More: Thirteen Lives Ending Explained
Verdict - 8/10