Thirteen Lives centres around the football team of young lads in Ban Chong, Thailand, Chiang Rai Province, who were trapped in a cave for 18 days from Saturday June 23rd 2018, since after the game, and before young Chai’s birthday party, they all headed off to the nearby cave, but were told they have to be quick because… it’ll be dark soon.
In a film which states it’s “based on actual events“, this is the time when the heavens opened and the cave was flooded, leaving the fate of the children uncertain, and presumed dead.
There’s some gorgeous panoramic shots of Thailand early on, before we get into the main event, since understandably, the majority of this film takes place underground, from Chamber 3 where the boys entered, and further on to Chamber 9 (2.5km away), giving a very claustrophobic feeling underwater, and the difficulty of negotiating such tight spaces – partially underwater, such as going through a stalactite tunnel, even though that area is just 800 metres from the entrance, plus the dangers the face including a cave collapsing early on.
Trouble is, once you’ve got to the boys, how do you get everyone out, especially when there’s a ton of oxygen required? Plus, the lads’ Thai coach cries that everyone will blame him for this.
Along the way, local helpers look to find everywhere that rain can get in. However, when they talk about trying to divert the water so it goes through a crop field – and how it WILL ruin their crops, and only MIGHT save the boys, and the farmers agree based on the potential to save them, the acting, writing, direction and everything feels so leaden.
Colin Farrell (The Batman) and Viggo Mortensen (Green Book), respectively, play volunteer rescue divers John Volanthen and Rick Stanton, with both actors affecting rather dull-sounding English accents – in fact, sounding a bit like Christian Bale on the set of Terminator Salvation when he declared “You don’t (expletive) understand…” to the director.
In fact, I can see this is set up as an inspirational tale of hope, but even Colin and Viggo seem bored!
I know Ron Howard has form with making a great real-life drama in Apollo 13, but 25 years on, Thirteen Lives really fails to hit the mark, just like their space shuttle with the moon. That’s largely down to the fact that it’s all done in a very pedestrian fashion, and we know the children are going to be fine, anyway.
In fact, the film feels like one of those cases where someone said after the original event: “Hey, wouldn’t this make a great movie?”, it was given the greenlight by the studio, but really shouldn’t have been.
Making it almost two-and-a-half hours doesn’t help, either, with time filled by writing in a sheepish-looking Governor who is about as much use as a fart in a bathtub.
I’m reminded of Clint Eastwood’s Sully: Miracle on the Hudson, starring Tom Hanks, where the titular pilot successfully landed a doomed plane on the water. I know with that film, they added in some faked tension of the federal authorities being deliberately beligerant with Sully and his co-pilot – where none of that existed in real life, and while I know one alteration from reality in this film which didn’t happen originally (see further down), either way, I can’t get away from the fact that it’s given me almost zero engagement: The kids enter the cave, they don’t come out, they send in divers, the kids are rescued… The end (well, in the space of 147 minutes)
I liked the actress Pattrakorn Tungsupakul (below) who played Chai’s Mother, Buahom, though 😉
Oh, and I was looking forward to it after Ron Howard’s last movie, Hillbilly Elegy, which didn’t look great from the trailer, yet I loved it when it was released. Meanwhile, the majority of those who saw it seemed to dislike it!
Now, for that comparison of one element in relation to what happened in reality, I’ll put this behind a spoiler header below. It’s not a spoiler, in that it’s something that happened in real life, but if you don’t want to know ANYTHING about the rescue before you watch it, then (a) don’t read it before you see the film, and (b) why are you reading this now? 😀
Thanks to our friends at Prime Video for the screener prior to release.
Thirteen Lives is on Amazon Prime Video from Friday August 5th (after a brief cinema release on July 29th), but the film isn’t yet available to pre-order on Blu-ray or DVD.
Running time: 147 minutes
Release date: August 5th 2022 (after a July 29th cinema release)
Studio: Amazon Prime Video
Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1
Director: Ron Howard
Producers: William M Connor, Brian Grazer, Ron Howard, Karen Lunder, Gabrielle Tana, PJ van Sandwijk
Screenplay: William Nicholson
Story: Don MacPherson, William Nicholson
Music: Benjamin Wallfisch
John Volanthen: Colin Farrell
Rick Stanton: Viggo Mortensen
Harry Harris: Joel Edgerton
Chris Jewell: Tom Bateman
Major Hodges: Josh Helman
Capt. Olivia Taft: Zahra Newman
Vern Unsworth: Lewis Fitz-Gerald
Jason Mallinson: Paul Gleeson
General Anupong: Vithaya Pansringarm
Governor Narongsak: Sahajak Boonthanakit
Preeya (Gov Assist): Natvara Hongsuwan
Buahom (Chai’s Mother): Pattrakorn Tungsupakul
Coach Ek: Teeradon Supapunpinyo
Commander Kiet (Thai Seal): Thira Chutikul
Saman (Thai Seal): Sukollawat Kanarot
Pichai (Thai Seal): Bernard Sam
Matthew (John’s Son): Blake McFarlane
Thanet Natisri: Nophand Boonyai
Manop (Prem’s father): Shakriya Tarinyawat
Somboon (Wit’s Father): Teerawat Mulvilai
Udom (Water Engineer): Gerwin Widjaja
Jay (Thai Seal): Jonathan Fang
Dr. Karn: Popetorn Soonthornyanakij
Connor Roe: Christopher Story
Reviewer of movies, videogames and music since 1994. Aortic valve operation survivor from the same year. Running DVDfever.co.uk since 2000. Nobel Peace Prize winner 2021.