[Screen It]


(2022) (Viggo Mortensen, Colin Farrell) (PG-13)

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Drama/Suspense: A team of rescuers attempts to retrieve a soccer coach and twelve boys who are trapped inside a long and flooded cave system.

It's 2018 and twelve teen and pre-teen boys from the Wild Boars junior football team -- along with their young coach, Ekkaphon Chanthawong (Teeradon Supapunpinyo) -- head into the Tham Luang Nang Non cave in northern Thailand before celebrating one boy's birthday. Unbeknownst to them, the monsoon season unexpectedly begins early, thus flooding parts of the approximately 10-kilometer-long cave and trapping the thirteen inside.

Learning of this, outgoing Governor Narongsak Osatanakorn (SAHAJAK BOONTHANAKIT) calls upon Captain Anand (TEERAPAT SAJAKUL) and his Navy SEALS -- including his most experienced diver, Saman Kunan (SUKOLLAWAT KANAROT) -- to attempt a rescue, but due to strong currents and inexperience in such conditions, they can only get so far into the cave. A British caver who lives nearby recommends they contact experienced cave rescuers Richard Stanton (VIGGO MORTENSEN) and John Volanthen (COLIN FARRELL) who then fly in and quickly access the dire situation.

Realizing the coach and boys will die without their help but will probably panic during any diving rescue -- and thus likely drown -- Richard and John come up with an unproven and extremely risky operation using the help of anesthesiologist Richard Harris (JOEL EDGERTON). With additional divers Chris Jewell (TOM BATEMAN) and Jason Mallinson (PAUL GLEESON), the team sets out to rescue the boys, all as heavy monsoon rains continue to flood the cave system.

OUR TAKE: 7 out of 10

My litmus test for coming up with my favorite movies of all time is whether I can watch them a second, third, or one-hundredth time and still be entertained and engaged by the story and characters despite knowing exactly what's going to happen. "The Shawshank Redemption," "Jaws," "Back to the Future" and "Raiders of the Lost Ark" are among those that adhere to that rule.

While they don't always end up in that lofty place of acclaim, the same applies in a similar way to films based on true-life stories. In other words, if I still find myself engrossed in what's unfolding despite knowing the outcome -- assuming the creative types didn't take artistic license with the conclusion -- then it's a win and worthy of a recommendation.

Such is the case with "Thirteen Lives," director Ron Howard's retelling of the real-life cave rescue story that unfolded in front of the world back in 2018. That's when a group of boys got stuck in a flooded cave in northern Thailand and large numbers of professionals and amateurs worked around the clock to solve the quandary of how to extract them from that increasingly perilous situation.

Working from a script by William Nicholson, Howard doesn't waste much time in setting up the story. At the end of soccer practice, all members of the Wild Boar soccer team -- save for one who goes home to help with the preparation for a teammate's birthday celebration -- head off with their young coach, Ekkaphon Chanthawong (Teeradon Supapunpinyo), to have some fun in the Tham Luang Nang Non cave. Most if not, all have been there before, but never during the monsoon season that ends up arriving earlier than expected.

They end up trapped and Governor Narongsak Osatanakorn (Sahajak Boonthanakit) -- who's on his way out of office -- and Navy SEALS commander Captain Anand (TEERAPAT SAJAKUL) then mount a rescue operation. But their divers can only make it so far into the flooded cave system where many passages are so tight that a man wearing SCUBA gear can barely squeeze through. Learning of this, a British diver who lives nearby recommends a duo of amateur but highly seasoned cave rescuers for the job.

And thus John Volanthen (Colin Farrell) and Richard Stanton (Viggo Mortensen) arrive on the scene -- with the former empathetic to the situation, what with having a kid of his own, but the latter doesn't really like kids and doesn't hold back on the likely grim outcome of the situation. Nevertheless, they make it to the trapped thirteen souls and must then devise an unorthodox and quite dangerous way to get them out, all of which results in the arrival of additional divers (played by Joel Edgerton, Tom Bateman, and Paul Gleeson).

If there's one minor quibble about the film, it's that we know next to nothing about any of the characters, be they the locals -- both the authorities and parents of the kids -- or the foreign rescuers. Granted, sometimes such details feel like fluff or filler, but they can add dimension and more ways to engage the viewer in drawing them closer to the characters at hand.

Thankfully, that doesn't remotely derail the offering that -- both by the default nature of the tale and the way in which Howard and company have things unfold -- is nothing short of incredibly gripping, intense, and often nerve-racking, pretty much from start to finish. Despite knowing the overall outcome, I didn't show up cognizant of all of the fine details of how and why things were done and thus was engaged for the entirety of the nearly two-and-a-half-hour offering (that flies by).

Featuring good performances, believable recreations of the flooded cave situation, great storytelling, and showcasing the human spirit in coming together for a common good, the film might not quite be stellar enough to end up in my all-time best list, but it's still quite good and worthy of a view or two. "Thirteen Lives" rates as a 7 out of 10.

Posted September 9, 2022

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