Ron Howard’s latest drama, “Thirteen Lives” is based on the incredible true story of the global effort to rescue a young Thai soccer team and their coach, who become trapped in the Tham Luang cave located in Northern Thailand for ten terrifying days.
Against insurmountable odds, a handful of the world’s most experienced divers teamed with Thai forces and thousands of volunteers from all over the world to attempt the harrowing rescue.
Scripted by William Nicholson (from a treatment co-written by Don MacPherson), Howard’s film is not only one of the best of 2022, but also one of the finest in his long career.
Colin Farrell and Viggo Mortensen play Englishmen John Volanthen and Rick Stanton, two of the world’s best divers. The two men go to Thailand hoping their combined skill set will help in the rescue.
What seems like cliché but is fact, the men are immediately faced with the distrust from the Thai Navy, who have already begun the operation.
Thira Chutikul is wonderful as Commander Kiet. The actor’s eyes say so much while hiding the shame of not being able to get to the boys first. As Kiet’s hard exterior molds into respect for all who come to help, this is a role that will stay with you.
Sahajak Boonthanakit is the Governor who must make hard decisions whether to let the rescue continue as the terrain becomes more and more deadly. Boonthanakit has been doing good work for years in Thai cinema. His portrayal of the governor is powerful, as the man struggles to keep a positive face for the public while fearing the absolute worst. It is a marvelous performance.
Farrell and Mortensen couldn’t be better. Each actor is completely natural in their portrayals of men who didn’t set out to be heroes, they just wanted to help. These are decent men using their skills for the greater good.
Once Volanthan and Stanton reach the boys, there comes a debilitating reality. Getting them out seems hopeless. The time it takes (three-plus hours) to return, and the impossibly tight spaces, make the rescue a logistical nightmare.
With no other possibilities and with time running out, the always fantastic Joel Edgerton’s Richard “Harry” Harris (an Australian anesthetist and cave diver) enters the film. It is agreed, after exhausting all feasible options, that it would be easier to sedate the young men and carry them out. As Mortensen’s character says, “they will be our packages.”
If one didn’t know this was a true story, it would be almost unbelievable. It is a matter of fact that the rescuers sedated every single one of these boys (and their coach) to get them out, having to stop and re-sedate them along the way. On July 8 the team of 18 divers went in with one assigned to each boy and the rest to assist.
The idea is completely chilling, but this was the boy’s last hope.
The dedication and supreme skill involved in telling this story breathes in every frame.
Howard’s skill as a storyteller has risen to masterful levels here. He is strong enough a director to pull off the heroism on humanistic levels while showing a respectful sensitivity toward the portrayal of the families and their agonizing wait, not knowing if they will see their children alive again.
Films of this nature habitually turn true life stories into melodrama, insulting the peoples of the stories they are portraying.Howard’s gentle hand guides the film through these moments with supreme care. The boys’ love for their coach after they hear him apologizing for getting them all stuck is quite emotional, as is the moment where the coach guides his terrified team through a Zen-like exercise to calm their minds.
Both scenes are deeply moving.
Sayombhu Mukdeeprom’s claustrophobic camerawork and Benjamin Wallfisch’s pulsating score enhance the dramatic tension.
Mukedeeprom’s camera puts the audience right with the divers, as we follow them through every harrowing space until we find ourselves breathing with them, carefully saving our breath as if we were in the deep.
The set design is incredible. The logistically complicated caves were recreated on giant soundstages in Australia, preventing even the slightest ounce of artificiality. Through the Oscar-worthy dedication of Howard’s phenomenal FX and Art Department crews, everything we experience feels true.
Howard smartly enlisted many Thai artists (including his cinematographer) to capture the essence of Thailand and its people. Producer Raymond Phathanavirangoon assisted William Nicholson by giving him details to capture the nuances of the Northern Thai culture.
Benefitting greatly from Phathanavirangoon’s participation, every moment feels completely authentic from the proper portrayal of a Burmese Monk to the respectful way of greeting someone, right down to the scenes of authentic prayer and regional accents.
The picture works extremely well and succeeds on every level. William Nicholson’s screenplay and Ron Howard’s expert filmmaking capture fully the power and emotion of the story.
“Thirteen Lives” is a film about selflessness and the ability for people to find the absolute best inside them.
This gripping film should live on in the hearts and souls of any who experience it.
Written by William Nicholson and Don MacPherson
Directed by Ron Howard
Starring Viggo Mortensen, Colin Farrell, Joel Edgerton, Sahajak Boonthanakit, Thira Chutikul
PG-13, 147 Minutes, Imagine Entertainment/Storyteller Productions