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Film Review: 'Thirteen Lives' Edge of Your Seat Visual Storytelling

Ron Howard’s directing elevates this from simply being a perilous mission to an endeavor that taps into the deepest aspect of human valor. The rescue scenes are nail-biting, depicting a claustrophobic, volatile environment.
[L-R] Thira ‘Aum’ Chutikul as Commander Kiet, Popetorn ‘Two’ Soonthornyanakij as Dr Karn, Joel Edgerton as Harry Harris, Colin Farrell as John Volanthen and Viggo Mortenson as Rick Stanton in THIRTEEN LIVES A Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures film. Photo credit: Vince Valitutti  © 2022 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc. All Rights Reserved.

[L-R] Thira ‘Aum’ Chutikul as Commander Kiet, Popetorn ‘Two’ Soonthornyanakij as Dr Karn, Joel Edgerton as Harry Harris, Colin Farrell as John Volanthen and Viggo Mortenson as Rick Stanton in THIRTEEN LIVES A Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures film. Photo credit: Vince Valitutti © 2022 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Back in 2018, a real-life rescue mission captivated the world. Twelve soccer players, ranging in age from 11-17, and their coach Ekapol Chantawong were trapped in the Tham Luang Nang Non cave under dire circumstances. What started out as a birthday celebration on June 23 for player Peerapat Sompiangjai, aka Night, turning 17 became a nightmare. The boys were unaware of the swift change in weather and were victims of the cave flooding due to monsoon rains. Stuck in absolute darkness and oblivious of how much time was elapsing, they survived on birthday snacks and water that dripped from the cave until they were discovered on July 2 by world-class British divers John Volanthen and Richard Stanton. Getting them out proved to be a perilous journey that spanned the days from July 8 to 10. It has a happy ending due to the expertise and nerves of steel of the men who saved them.

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People throw around the word hero frequently these days but sometimes the term actually applies. Ron Howard’s forthcoming Thirteen Lives focuses on the four men who were at the heart of the rescue and the community that supported them, which included locals and Thai Navy SEALS. Colin Farrell as John Volanthen gives a subdued, earnest performance that’s enthralling to watch. As a father, John’s innate connection to the kids he’s saving is demonstrable. Viggo Mortensen plays his diving partner, Richard Stanton. He’s the leader of the pack, yet a bit of a lone wolf. At this point in his life, he and John have performed many underwater rescues. He prides himself on being the best at what he does and refuses to let this situation defeat him or his team. Mortensen’s quiet intensity and clear-eyed optimism matches Farrell’s stellar performance. Joel Edgerton is anesthesiologist Harry Harris and Tom Bateman is Chris Jewell. All of the actors inhabit their roles, giving this true story its necessary authenticity. 

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Screenwriters William Nicholson imbues these rescue warriors with a humility and grace that everyone can aspire to. The international and community efforts to save the boys is both inspiring and auspicious.

Director Ron Howard on the set of  THIRTEEN LIVES A Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures film. Photo credit: Vince Valitutti  © 2022 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Director Ron Howard on the set of THIRTEEN LIVES A Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures film. Photo credit: Vince Valitutti © 2022 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Ron Howard’s directing elevates this from simply being a perilous mission to an endeavor that taps into the deepest aspect of human valor. The rescue scenes are nail-biting, depicting a claustrophobic, volatile environment. We’re also constantly aware of the hazards above ground. It’s a zero-sum game with man eventually overcoming nature’s wrath.

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Even if you’ve seen 2021’s excellent documentary The Rescue, Thirteen Lives is worth a watch for the nuanced performances and edge-of-your-seat visual storytelling. 

The MGM release drops exclusively for one week in select New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago theaters on July 29, then launches globally on Prime Video on August 5. 


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