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Thirteen Lives Movie Review (Spoiler Free)

Amazon & Ron Howard present a movie about 2018’s real-life rescue of twelve Thai teenagers & their football coach, trapped while exploring a cave during the monsoon season.

Genre: Action / Bio-Pic / Drama

Director: Ron Howard

Cast: Viggo Mortensen, Colin Farrell, Joel Edgerton, Teerapat Sajakul, Teeradon Supapunpinyo, Tom Bateman, Sukollawat Kanarot, Vithaya Pansringarm & Sahajak Boonthanakit.

Run Time: 147 min.

US Release: 29 July 2022 (limited release)

UK Release: 05 August 2022 (amazon prime)

German Release: 05 August 2022 (amazon prime)

Ron Howard’s biographical survival drama was a surprise for me. I had not expected nor heard of this project before its release date and was thus interested to see what the director managed to bring onto the small screen. Based on the real-life events of 2018, which trapped thirteen Thai teenagers in a flooded cave, the account focuses on the volunteers fighting against time, to get the boys out before it is too late. Now, I have not seen the documentary The Rescue, which many deem to be the better-told version of this tragic happening, nevertheless, Thirteen Lives is a good enough biopic, with a couple of flaws.

When a group of boys and their soccer coach are trapped in an underground cave system during the monsoon season in Thailand, an international rescue operation is put together to save the young men’s lives.

The screenplay is, shockingly, among the weakest aspects of the movie, though still solid. For one, the plot goes roughly twenty-five minutes too long. While the story is engaging enough, there are at times moments where it screeches to a near halt. Then there is the fact that the narrative is kept emotionally too distant. Yes, the stakes are made blatantly clear from the beginning and the cinematography underlines the difficulty of the mission, yet the audience feels no real connection to any of the characters; not the parents, not the boys, not even the rescuers. This is a very analytically told biopic.

However, it is due to a preference for logic rather than emotion that the film can focus on meticulously detailed facets of this real-life incident, without needing to come up with moral explanations, once a solution presents itself, no matter the consequences. It is based on the facts of what happened, not required to add non-sensical drama to an already rich story. There is a secondary account going on, nonetheless, about a stateless mother whose child is among the thirteen trapped in the cave, that wasn’t really needed.

Most of the dialogue is in Thai, allowing the culture of the country to flow through its characters. Conversations are strong and realistic, just as with the plot, sticking to the issue at hand, never deviating from the main event. A lot of the drama is subjected to conversations, as well as the inclusion of dry British humour.

Colin Farrell portrays British civilian rescue cave diver John Volanthen and gives a good rendition of the person. Volanthen’s background is more open than his colleague Stanton's. For instance, the audience obtains the information that he has a family, which makes the situation more personal for Volanthen himself. He doesn’t see the boys as objects needing rescue, he sees them as children and Farrell fleshed out that characteristic well enough.

Viggo Mortensen gives once again an exhilarating performance. Playing British civilian cave diver Rick Stanton, who specialises in rescue missions through the Cave Rescue Organisation. Mortensen manages to shine once again, without pushing himself into the foreground. From the first moment he is on screen, he embodies the persona of Stanton and is believable as a diver, who knows about the dangers, approaching the problem in a calculated manner. His friendship with Colin Farrell’s character feels realistic!

Joel Edgerton as Richard “Harry” Harris, is the moral compass of the movie. I won’t spoil who Harris is, just in case you are unfamiliar with the incident, so as not to spoil anything. It is sufficient to say that Edgerton nailed his character. The whole operation obtains a new moral significance through his persona.

The camera work is where this flick shines! The danger and imminent time pressure are visualised thanks to the magnificent cinematography of the director of photography Sayombhu Mukdeeprom. The claustrophobic feeling of cave diving, including zero visibility in muddy water, is perfectly reflected visually on screen. The colour palette feels natural, it is not overly saturated nor is it sanitised.

The effects are mostly practical and natural. Cuts, bruises, scratches from the cave diving are all practical, looking authentic. The setting is for the most part the cave itself, filming took place in Thailand and Australia. The wardrobe plus costume design is modelled after the real-life event.

The music adds a tension-filled tone to the whole narrative, however, never takes over. More impressive are the sound effects, which give the whole situation a realistic touch.


Verdict: Amazon’s drama, based on the real-life rescue mission of thirteen Thai boys back in 2018, is a grounded flick. The screenplay focuses on the mission to save the trapped young men, rather than fictitiously dramatising the whole situation. We don’t obtain much background information about the characters either, which are portrayals of real people that have been active in the rescue. Yet they feel one-dimensional, even exchangeable at times. This has nothing to do with the performances of the actors, who all gave amazing renditions of their real-life counterparts; especially Vigo Mortensen, who once again knocked it out of the park. The cinematography is jaw-droppingly amazing, creating an atmosphere of tension and claustrophobia, while the music adds to that mood, though never distracting from the happenings on screen. All in all, this is a good survival biopic with few flaws, fully deserving a 7.5 out of 10.

Have you seen Thirteen Lives? Did you see National Geographics The Rescue? Which one would you recommend to watch first? Thank you for reading!


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