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Thirteen Lives Movie Review

Thirteen Lives (2022)

Rent Thirteen Lives on Amazon Video (paid link)
Written by: William Nicholson (screenplay by), Don MacPherson & William Nicholson (story by)
Directed by: Ron Howard
Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Colin Farrell, Joel Edgerton
Rated: PG-13
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A rescue mission is assembled in Thailand where a group of young boys and their soccer coach are trapped in a system of underground caves that are flooding.

It’s a better history lesson than a movie. The tension, at least for the first two thirds, is lacking since many viewers will know the outcome though the movie assumes you won’t. Despite that, the final third manages to become more engaging as the daring rescue occurs. Knowing the children were rescued doesn’t prepare you for how they were rescued, but that’s the problem for most of the movie. Many viewers will know the answer to the question of do the kids survive. This movie should have provided insight to how the kids survive.
It depends.

This is based on, and follows closely, the actual event in 2018. I’m surprised I didn’t hear more about this being directed by Howard and starring Farrell and Mortensen.

A group of kids and their soccer coach end up trapped in a cave with no way out. Locals and Thailand Navy Seals provide help before calling experienced cave divers John (Colin Farrell) and Rick (Viggo Mortensen).

Viggo Mortensen and Colin Farrell play Rick and John

I like the text that indicate which section of the cave and how far from the entrance the kids are. This maps serves to reinforce just how deep they are and how difficult it is to reach them while orienting the viewer. I also appreciate the authenticity with using Thai language and subtitles.

We don’t see the children after their initial venture into the cave.  Showing them would certainly add panic. I’m curious how they are surviving several days in. The only reason to not show them is for a big reveal later. The movie is keeping us in limbo as to whether they’re okay, but that impact is lessened as this was such a famous story. I have to imagine many people watching this know something about the real life event. If this were a work of fiction, I would understand not showing the kids. No one would know the outcome. Since this is based on facts, seeing the kids shifts the question from are they alive to can they be rescued and how. I don’t understand why this didn’t dramatize their survival. It would have added needed drama.

This does a great job of showing how treacherous diving in these caves is. The point of view shots capture the uncertainty and scariness. It’s difficult for John and Rick to know what’s going on by themselves, much less trying to rescue children. When try to help just one volunteer manning the pumps, he freaks out completely. That sets the stakes well. What will the kids do?

The rescue begins

John and Rick find the kids, but surprisingly the movie doesn’t built it as a big triumphant moment. I assumed it would since we didn’t see the kids until this point. I get that finding them alive isn’t the ultimate victory, but it is important. With this reveal, the movie should have shown how the kids survived prior.

From this point, the movie checks in on the kids. Finding the kids is one thing, but getting them out the full length of the cave is the issue. They come up with a crazy plan. Up to this point the movie feels like a better piece of history than a movie. All the tension this should have isn’t there because many people will know how this story or will have looked it up prior to watching. The problem is that viewers will likely know the question and answer. Even so, once the rescue starts the tension really picks up. I just wish the movie had this kind of energy earlier.

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