The Reel Review


Viggo Mortensen, Colin Farrell and Joel Edgerton star in this harrowing docudrama about the 2018 rescue of 12 young boys and their assistant soccer coach, who were trapped in Tham Luang Cave near the Thailand/Myanmar border for 18 days after it was flooded by torrential rains.

Viggo Mortensen and Colin Farrell in Thirteen Lives.

Oscar-winning director Ron Howard (A Beautiful Mind) and writer William Nicholson team up again in their third disaster movie based on true life events, after 1995’s Apollo 13 and 2015’s Everest. Opting for a more straightforward, technically detailed perspective, they avoid unnecessary melodrama – making the film way more realistic and compelling as a result. The only thing missing – the perspective of the boys, which would have given the story even more emotional heft.

The stranded soccer team in Thirteen Lives.

The film’s climax is incredibly intense, as one-by-one, divers use a combination of ketamine, atropine and Xanax to render the boys and coach unconscious and prevent panic during the three-hour, 2.5 mile underwater journey through the labyrinth of cave tunnels. At two-and-a-half hours, Thirteen Lives is 30 minutes too long but it is still an extremely emotional film – a rousing testament to human ingenuity and spirit.


The assistant soccer coach and his 12 players who survived the Tham Luang Cave rescue

• More than 10,000 people were involved in the rescue of the 13 individuals trapped in the cave. They survived the first weeks before being discovered by drinking water running along the cave walls. The assistant coach taught the boys meditation techniques to remain calm and not use up oxygen.

British rescue divers Rick Stanton (left) and John Volanthan

• After training with the real life divers Rick Stanton and John Volanthen, Viggo Mortensen and Colin Farrell volunteered to do their own diving stunts, which director Ron Howard said made his job much easier. Afterwards, they admitted suffering moments of panic while filming diving scenes.

• Rescuer Rick Stanton praised the film’s accuracy, saying that the biggest deviation, showing the actual muddy waters as clear, was needed to illustrate the difficult nature of the rescue mission.

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