What kind of commitments did Peter Berg and Mark Wahlberg have that they missed the chance to make Thirteen Lives? It’s right up their disaster to screen alley, but instead Ron Howard is retelling the summer of 2018 Tham Luang cave rescue that seemed like a mission of impossibility.
In Thailand, a soccer team consisting of 12 preteen to teenage boys and their coach are stranded in the cavern when heavy rains follow their post practice journey to the dwelling. Their entrapment immediately brings thunderous media attention from around the globe and offers of assistance that ballooned to 5,000 people getting involved. The Governor of the territory (Sahajak Boonthanakit) must walk the a fine line communicating to the panic stricken families and a curious throng of journalists and onlookers.
It’s two Brits who are a focal point for the operation with experienced divers Richard Stanton (Viggo Mortensen) and John Volanthen (Colin Farrell). Local villagers band together to divert ten of millions in gallons of water from submerging the cave. Richard and John must come up with a plan to get the team out before the coming monsoon creates that eventuality. This eventually involves brining in Aussie Harry Harris (Joel Edgerton), whose medical expertise will come in handy more so than his diving skills.
To put it succinctly – this film is an amazing story told capably. You may find yourself more wowed by it if you don’t know much about what happened four summers ago. This statement also holds true if you didn’t see the Nat Geo doc The Rescue about this assignment. Howard and screenwriter William Nicholson cover snippets of multiple facets of the 18 day ordeal such as the politics involved and the excruciating waits of the boys loved ones.
The most captivating parts involve the intricacies of the rescue and the claustrophobic methods for it to be successful. Mortensen and Farrell’s convincing interplay helps. We know the outcome and Lives can often feel a little repetitive. The 2 hour and 20 minute runtime feels occasionally bloated and the first hour in particular is bumpy. It may not be the best title dealing with the subject. It’s not Howard’s best movie with the number 13 in the name thanks to a Tom Hanks led mission much further above ground. This is still a worthwhile journey.
*** (out of four)