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“Viggo Mortensen and Colin Farrell star as divers in Ron Howard’s drama about the 2018 rescue of a Thai soccer team trapped in a flooded cave”–Paul Ebeling
The most haunting frame in Ron Howard’s Thirteen Lives shows a huddle of bicycles, hurriedly deposited along the metal fence leading into Tham Luang Nang Non cave in northern Thailand. They belong to the 12 soccer players between the ages of 11 and 16 and their 25-year-old coach, who decided to go exploring on a day in late June 2018. What the group thought would be a brief post-practice excursion on familiar terrain turned into an 18-day nightmare. Hours after the team entered the underground karstic cavern, it flooded.
Most people know the story of the mission to rescue the soccer team, even if hazy on the details. The news galvanized the international community and drew a captivated, sympathetic audience. Thirteen Lives is not the first attempt to tell the tale. In 2019, Tom Waller premiered his uneven docudrama The Cave at the Busan International Film Festival. Two years later, directors Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi (Free Solo) unveiled The Rescue, a riveting documentary that includes hours of never-before-seen footage.
With Thirteen Lives, Howard, along with storywriters Don MacPherson and William Nicholson, attempts his own worthy retelling by focusing on the boys, their families and the coordination needed among the volunteers to save them. It’s a restrained rendering of the events, a drama that plays, at times, like a documentary. But if Mr. Howard’s decision to spotlight the Thai characters in this harrowing narrative is a sound one, there’s an unfamiliar stiffness and self-consciousness in the director’s approach — an inability to marry the fast-paced, no-nonsense heroics that are his strong suit with more emotionally textured storytelling. The resulting awkwardness prevents the movie, for all the surreal tension and bravery it depicts, from feeling urgent or surprising.
The opening shots of the 12 boys engrossed in a soccer game positions Thirteen Lives as a movie about the heart and humanity of its subjects. The nail-biting action of the rescue takes a back seat as we watch the lives of the boys, hours before they ventured into the cave, unfold. Their scenes of play are intercut with establishing shots of bulbous clouds sailing across the sky, an outline of the mountainous landscape and the wind blowing through verdant farmland.
Principal shooting took place in Australia because of COVID-19 restrictions, but these glimpses of the natural world, along with clips of the townspeople, were taken in Thailand.
Distributor: Metro Goldwyn Mayer, United Artists Releasing
Production companies: Bron Creative, Imagine Entertainment, Storyteller, Magnolia MAE
Cast: Viggo Mortensen, Colin Farrell, Joel Edgerton, Tom Bateman, Paul Gleeson, Sahajak Boonthanakit
Director: Ron Howard
Screenwriters: William Nicholson (screenplay by) (story by), Don MacPherson (story by)
Producers: P.J. van Sandwijk, p.g.a; Gabrielle Tana, p.g.a; Karen Lunder, p.g.a.; William M. Connor; Brian Grazer, p.g.a; Ron Howard, p.g.a
Executive producers: Carolyn Marks Blackwood, Jason Cloth, Aaron L. Gilbert, Michael Lesslie, Marie Savare
Cinematographer: Sayombhu Mukdeeprom
Production designer: Molly Hughes
Costume designer: Tess Schofield
Editor: James Wilcox
Composer: Benjamin Wallfisch
Casting director: Nikki Barrett
Rated PG-13, 2 hours 22 minutes
Opens 29 July
Have a prosperous day, Keep the Faith!
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