Andrea’s film review – Thirteen Lives

Thirteen Lives ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Review by Andrea Carnevali

A rescue mission is assembled in Thailand where a group of young boys and their soccer coach are trapped in a system of underground caves that are flooding. On Prime Video and selected cinemas. 

Say what you will about Ron Howard, but the guy is a consummate professional who certainly knows how to tell a story and while his directorial efforts are usually deemed to be without much style and not really recognisable, but I have to say that in this film I found it, precise, competent, to the point, unfussy and surprisingly unsentimental.

This might be one of his best films, up there with Frost/Nixon and Rush and Apollo 13 (I also have a soft spot for Cocoon).

The story centres around the 2018 rescue mission to save the Thai soccer team who remained trapped in the Tham Luang cave during an unexpected monsoon rainstorm.

The film doesn’t waste any time getting into story and within ten minutes or so, the 12 kids and the coach are stuck inside the case.

For the next two hours and twenty minutes, Howard keeps us, the audience, glued to the screen as the rescue mission unravel in a race against time before the heavy rain starts again.

It is so handsomely and skilfully told and made, that even knowing the outcome of the story doesn’t make it any less gripping.

Howard wisely keeps the focus from the point of view of the people outside the cave, the rescuers, newscasters and the parents and relatives avoiding speculative and possibly cheap dramatization of what might have happened in the days before the kids were found, but also without exploiting the pain and suffering of those who were waiting to hear whether their children were dead or alive.

It is a pretty straightforward re-enactment of what happened during those interminable and agonizing 18 days with no whistles or bells and even very little music. In fact I was surprised how restrained was the scene when everybody found out the kids were alive after ten days with no food.

No music, mostly foreign dialogue (a lot of that without subtitles). It’s as if Howard is trying to keep Hollywood out of this as much as he can and yet the end result is just a stirring and moving.

What it really all boils down to is eventually a story about those rare people who can really be called heroes. Not just the incredible rescuers, here portraited by Colin Farrell, Viggo Mortensen, Joel Edgerton (seemingly effortlessly) but the many Thai people who chose to ruin their crops (and their  possible livelihood) by diverting the water from the mountains towards them and away from the caves, in order to save the kids.

At the end of the film we are told that more than 5,000 people from 17 countries contributed to the rescue effort: an incredible, gripping, suspenseful heart-warming story about goodness in people (yes there are a few out there apparently), which is treated with the maximum respect it deserves (it is dedicated to the two Navy SEAL people who sadly lost their life during the rescue).

Highly recommended, unless of course you suffer from claustrophobia, in which case, stay well away from it.

Andrea Carnevali is a Bafta winning film maker who lives in Chiswick.

Thirteen Lives is available to watch on Prime Video and in selected cinemas.

See all Andrea’s film reviews here: Film reviews by Andrea Carnevali

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