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Thirteen lives: cave rescue film explores sacrifice and life-saving courage

FILM REVIEW Title: Thirteen Lives Run time: 2h 27m Director: Ron Howard Cast: Viggo Mortensen, Colin Farrell, Joel Edgerton Where and when: Streaming on Amazon Prime Rating: 4/5

Ron Howard’s Thirteen Lives details the incredible true story of the rescue of 12 boys and their coach who were trapped deep in a cave system in Thailand for 18 days.

With detailed precision and claustrophobic tension, Howard has returned to form with a massive success. 

The film explores the many sacrifices and extensive volunteer work that led, in either major or minor ways, to the rescue of these boys.

Leading the film are British rescue cave divers Rick Stanton (Viggo Mortensen) and John Volanthen (Colin Farrell), who put their expertise into finding the boys; Australian anaesthetist Dr Richard Harris (Joel Edgerton), who is called on for a heart-racing procedure; Thanet Natisri (Nophand Boonyai), an American Thai volunteer who dedicates himself to diverting the water away from the boys; and finally, Saman Kunan (Sukollawat Kanarot) and Captain Anand (Teerapat Sajakul), the Thai Navy Seals who make an unforgettable sacrifice to rescue the boys.

Thirteen lives: cave rescue film explores sacrifice and life-saving courage

Sukollawat Kanarot and Theerapat Sajakul.

The film excels in showing the variety of efforts it took to not only find the boys alive but bring them out safely. From villagers sacrificing their crops to divert the water, to the divers swimming for more than seven hours at a time to bring the boys food and water, the amount of work put in is fully realised and the extent of the rescue is shown in full.

The ensemble cast, much like the real-life rescue, all support and hold up one another, with no Hollywood A-lister trying to vie for more screen time by overperforming.

Viggo Mortensen uses his usual chameleonic talent to playing a no-nonsense, slightly prickly English diver. Mortensen’s flawless English accent and transformation into Rick Stanton propels the film.

Equally impressive is the fact that Mortensen, Edgerton, Bateman and Gleeson all did their own stunts and diving, refusing to use doubles during the making of the film.

Thirteen lives: cave rescue film explores sacrifice and life-saving courage

Viggo Mortensen and Colin Farrell in Thirteen Lives.

Cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom shoots the film with a documentary realism whilst Benjamin Wallfisch’s ticking clock score adds even more tension to the already suffocatingly anxious rescue.

The biggest crime the film makes is the fact that it is not being played in Australian theatres. The sound design in particular was impressive and would’ve been incredible to experience in the cinema. But, the length and tense nature of the film may be too much to bear for some and, at least, streaming allows for a respite between the many claustrophobic diving sequences. 

Ron Howard’s return to form is a thrilling and detailed exploration of human spirit and collaboration, which showcases what could be achieved if money, power and politics were not the objective, but rather the chance to save lives.

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