Review of the film Thirteen Lives Directed by Ron Howard Rating *****
There are only a handful of directors whose films I would see because they directed a particular film. Ron Howard is one of those directors. The movie 13 Lives, free on Amazon Prime, could easily have had a successful theatrical run. It’s that good.
The movie tells the story of twelve Thai soccer players and their coach trapped deep inside a cave due to flooding and the efforts to rescue them. The story has many echoes of one of Ron Howard’s best movies – Apollo 13. Beyond the obvious number 13, there is the plot of a difficult rescue, a weather threat, worldwide media coverage, and a dwindling supply of oxygen. There’s even a threat of carbon dioxide buildup. Another comparison is having to tell a story in a cramped environment.
The two American actors who play the lead roles, Collin Farrell and Viggo Mortensen, disappear into their roles. They are the first to reach the kids and discover that they are still alive after nine days without any contact. Unfortunately, finding the kids is only the beginning of the ordeal. Due to the flooding and narrow passageways, getting them out appears almost impossible. The rain that threatens to fill the cave with water adds to the difficulty. A secondary story involves attempts to divert the mountain water from flowing into the cave and instead down the mountainside, where it ends up flooding farmers’ fields.
I followed the story like everyone else when it happened. I always believed that each kid swam out with the help of a diver. There is a short scene in the film where this fallacy first appears in the media. The truth is that they had to sedate the kids and constrain their arms and legs, allowing the divers to move them through the tunnels without fear of them panicking. It was a six-hour dive from where they were to the cave’s opening.
The film stays true to the actual event, using subtitles for Thai characters and their dialogue as well as mostly Thai actors. The singular focus is the rescue. Everything else is used only as a means to tell that story. Two Thai rescue swimmers would lose their lives in the rescue attempt. One diver died from a blood infection after the dive. The other diver drowned in the tunnel after running out of air.