‘Thirteen Lives’: Thai cave rescue film offers no-frills thrill

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The dramatic true saga of a Thai boys’ soccer team trapped in a flooded cave, and their rescue by an international team of divers – notably, including a handful of British volunteers – struck the world during the summer of 2018. Four years later, the theme of the story of overcoming great obstacles continues to fascinate filmmakers and audiences alike.

Last fall, there was a mesmerizing documentary “The Rescue” by Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarely, the husband-and-wife duo behind mountain-climbing docs “Meru” and Oscar-winning “Free Solo.” And this week brings not one but two narrative features inspired by the same story: “Cave Rescue,” a dramatization, available on demand and in select theaters, in which diver Jim Warne plays himself, and Amazon’s “Thirteen Lives,” Ron Howard (“We Feed People”) and starred Colin Farrell and Viggo Mortensen as divers John Volenthan and Rick Stanton – the same two divers who stole much of the show in “The Rescue.” (On September 22, Netflix will roll out its six-episode mini-series, “Thai Cave Rescue,” told from the boys’ point of view.)

To be honest, I’ll probably watch them all.

Not that “The Rescue” isn’t tough competition. Chin and Vasarely told the story largely through interviews with Volanthen and Stanton, and combined archival video footage from a Thai cave with reenactments shot at a pool in England – with an amusing intensity that’s hard to beat. Is. But Howard’s film does exactly what it sets out to do: immerse you in nail-biting events and a claustrophobic setting — caves and crevices filled with dark, cold, and muddy waters, many of which are studded with water. , are top and bottom, by dagger-like stalactites and stalagmites. “Thirteen Lives” vividly recreates both those physical dangers and what was really at stake, with a cast of young Thai actors.

But the film’s real brilliance is, if it isn’t too strong a word, in focusing the action on Ferrell and Mortensen’s characters, the scenario stemming from the ineffective efforts of a poorly prepared Thai Navy SEAL to dive into the dives recommended by Vern Unsworth (Louise Fitz). after being transferred. -Gerald), an expatriate British cave explorer who lived near the cave. (You may recall that Elon Musk publicly insulted Unsworth when Unsworth criticized Musk’s plan to build a mini-submarine for the rescue.) Joel Edgerton was an Australian diver and also an anesthesiologist. There’s the lead, who played an important – and, for some who might not remember the details of the story, surprising – ran in the rescue.

Farrell and Mortensen do an admirable job of capturing not only the quirky personalities and eccentricities of Volenthen and Stanton, but their drab appeal: they are elite yet amateur heroes who became the best of a lifetime of practicing a strangely niche hobby. Huh. What they do for fun (which, it should be noted, is something the most sane people wouldn’t do for any amount of money). In “The Rescue” it is clarified that these guys are like elite climbers, a – how do I keep that? – Special breed. In short: They both become more calm, focused, and focused in situations that would immediately freak out the rest of us.

“Thirteen Lives” is a solid feat, both technically and theatrically, using a TikTok timeline and superimposing on-screen maps of a mile-long cave system to create time-tension. Like its protagonist, it isn’t flashy, but is all business. It gets the job done with minimal histrionics, yet a mountain of suspense.

PG-13. Available on Amazon. Contains some strong language and disturbing images. In Thai, English and French without subtitles. 147 mins.