“Thirteen Lives” is a beautiful, dramatic retelling of 2018 Thailand cave rescue

Viggo Mortensen and Colin Farrell learned cave-diving and opted out of using stunt doubles in Ron Howard’s new film


Courtesy Vince Valitutti/Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures

From left, Colin Farrell as John Volanthen, Joel Edgerton as Harry Harris, and Viggo Mortensen as Rick Stanton in “Thirteen Lives.”

Riya Mahanta, Algonquin Regional High

While most are familiar with the 18-day rescue effort of 12 teenage boys and their soccer coach trapped inside a Thailand cave, Ron Howard’s “Thirteen Lives” depicts the story in a must-see day-by-day account of the rescue.

On June 23, 2018, the team and their coach ventured into the Tham Luang cave system to explore and kill some time. Little did they know they would be stranded in the cave for more than two weeks, due to the early arrival of torrential rains, which flooded the cave and trapped  them. This prompted a global rescue effort involving about 10,000 people to get them out safely.

This movie shows the complexity of this rescue by highlighting the team effort of the Thai Navy Seals, British divers, scientists, water engineers, Thai government, and countless civilian volunteers. 

Courtesy Vince Valitutti/Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures

Although the film includes no footage from the rescue like the 2021 documentary “The Rescue,” cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom, screenwriter William Nicholson, Howard and the cast were able to produce realistic, natural-looking scenes and visuals that make the viewer feel the claustrophobia and suspense of it all.

According to Howard, who spoke alongside cast and crew members after an exclusive IMAX press screening July 31,  footage from the 2018 rescue oftentimes was shot on GoPros with low-quality visuals and wouldn’t be beneficial to the film.

Director Ron Howard and the crew were able to produce realistic, natural-looking scenes that make the viewer feel the claustrophobia and suspense of it all.

“You have to keep in mind, you couldn’t see more than a foot in front of you,” said British diver Richard Stanton, who discovered the boys alive in the real cave rescue.

These realistic cave-diving scenes were not produced without difficulty, Howard explained. 

“I’ve shot underwater scenes before so I wasn’t too worried about that, but I definitely underestimated the complexity of the fake caves,” Howard said. “I think the film is a series of successes with a lot of near misses.”

Another element that added to the authenticity to this film were the actors themselves. Viggo Mortensen played Stanton and Colin Farrell played John Volanthen, two British cave divers who discovered the soccer team alive and played a monumental role in the rescue. 

Howard explained how Mortensen and Farrell learned the basics of cave-diving from Stanton and Volanthen and opted out of using stunt doubles. No scenes in the movie looked staged, which adds to the intensity and suspense of the film. 

“The degree of difficulty was sustained throughout the movie, it wasn’t just a couple of ‘hard scenes,’ ” Mortensen said during the press interview. 

Howard also expressed his desire to represent the Thai culture and community in an accurate and respectful way, taking the help of Thai cast members Sahajak Boonthanakit and Pattrakorn Tungsupakul, who play the governor and mother of the youngest boy trapped inside, respectively. Additionally, the 12 boys who played the soccer players in the film were not formal actors, but were chosen partly because of their regional dialect, which Howard felt was important to display as the rescue took place in northern Thailand. 

Director Ron Howard (right) on the set of “Thirteen Lives.”  The 12 boys who played the soccer players were not formal actors, but were chosen partly because of their regional dialect. (Courtesy Vince Valitutti/Metro Goldwyn Mayer)

This film sparks human interest throughout, whether it be the storylines of the worried-parents and community, the danger the divers faced, or the sacrifice of Thai farmers who let their fields be flooded to divert water away from the cave to aid the rescue efforts.

While the film is emotional and dramatized, it effectively includes important details. A useful graphic of the cave showing the names of different chambers, how far points in the cave were away from the entrance, as well as the duration of the dives appears throughout the film, making the timeline and storyline easy to follow.

Even though most have seen or read something about this amazing story and rescue effort, “Thirteen Lives” is the perfect blend of drama, human interest, suspense, humor, facts, and cinematography that combine to portray the story in an enthralling way to viewers.

The film will be released on Amazon Prime Video on Aug. 5. 

–Aug. 4, 2022–