Life & Culture

Thirteen Lives Film review: Brilliantly executed dramatisation of Tham Luang cave rescue

Ron Howard's portrayal of infamous 2018 near-tragedy is a tale of hope, togetherness and solidarity


(L to R) Thira ‘Aum’ Chutikul as Commander Kiet, Popetorn ‘Two’ Soonthornyanaku as Dr Karn, Joel Edgerton as Harry Harris, Colin Farrell as John Volanthen and Viggo Mortenson as Rick Stanton in THIRTEEN LIVES, a Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures film. Credit: Vince Valitutti / Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures © 2022 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Thirteen Lives
Cert: 12A | ★★★★✩

Oscar-winning writer-director Ron Howard (A Beautiful Mind, Frost/Nixon, The Da Vinci Code) chronicles the events of the infamous 2018 Tham Luang cave rescue in this brilliant dramatisation of the story starring Viggo Mortensen, Colin Farrell and Joel Edgerton as the trio at the centre of the rescue.

Written by William Nicholson, the film had a limited theatrical release late last month and will be making its streaming debut on Amazon Prime later this week.

The story revolves around 12 boys and the coach of a Thai football team who find themselves trapped in rising waters whilst exploring the Tham Luang cave complex in northern Thailand’s Chiang Rai province. Enclosed behind a maze of flooded tunnels, the group faces impossible odds, but things start to look up when a team of divers navigate through miles of flooded cave networks as they discover that finding the boys is only the beginning of their ordeal.

Enter expert British divers Rick Stanton (Mortensen) and John Volanthen (Farell) who with the help of the tireless local Navy Seals and Aussie anaesthetist Richard Harris (Edgerton) come up with an ingenious solution to save every last one of those trapped in the cave. But when tragedy strikes, the team finds itself put under immense pressure to keep everyone safe.

Elevated by Sayombhu Mukdeeprom’s impressively precise cinematography, Thirteen Lives manages to be both informative and moving without ever falling into needless melodrama. Deliberately ignoring the headline-grabbing circus surrounding a disagreement between the self-effacing members of the rescue team and business magnate Elon Musk at the time, Howard and Nicholson deliver a concise and sobering account of what really went on behind the scenes.

And as the nail-biting denouement approaches, all that is left is a sense of selfless sacrifice and the importance of international togetherness.

Mortensen gives a stunning performance as the quietly confident Harris, while Farrell delivers another tour de force by offering Volanthen as an everyman who finds himself at the centre of a truly extraordinary story. Farrell not only embodies his character’s mannerisms and demeanour, but also manages to exude the same calm and level headedness of a man who feels the weight of the responsibility everywhere he turns.

This gorgeously executed slice of recent history does exactly what is expected from it and remains unblemished by a minimal use of artifice.

Howard has delivered a heartwarming tale of hope, togetherness and solidarity that is further elevated by some truly exceptional performances.

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