Thirteen Lives Is A Gripping Real-Life Thriller

(L to R) Thira ‘Aum’ Chutikul as Commander Kiet, Popetorn ‘Two’ Soonthornyanaku 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 / Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures. © 2022 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Thirteen Lives is a gripping thriller about the incredible 2018 Thailand cave rescue of a soccer team trapped in Tham Luang cave network.

Ron Howard is no stranger to making films about incredibly true rescues. He did it years ago with Apollo 13 and now he’s back again. Last year saw the premiere of The Rescue during the fall festival season. Where that film is a documentary, the narrative feature goes full thriller, capturing all of the claustrophobia. Even though we know what happens, we’re still sitting on the edge of our seats watching this rescue mission take place.

Thailand’s monsoon season traditionally starts in July. Maybe it is because of climate change but an unexpected storm derailed one team member’s birthday party. The flooding was too much for the Navy SEALs to attempt an initial rescue. It took a global effort with 10,000 volunteers but a pair of British divers, Rick Stanton (Viggo Mortensen) and John Volanthen (Colin Farrell), found the team in Chamber 9. Unlike the SEALs, the British also had experience with this sort of cave diving. Their dwindling oxygen supply means that time is of the essence while the entire world watches on the news. With another storm on the horizon, rescuers have anywhere between days to hours to get everyone to safety. Enter Australian physician Dr. Richard “Harry” Harris (Joel Edgerton) and a ridiculous idea that just might work. Other divers include Chris Jewell (Tom Bateman) and Jason Mallinson (Paul Gleeson).

Vernon Unsworth (Lewis Fitz-Gerald) certainly knew that locals alone would not be able to save the boys. He’s one of the people who realized that they needed to bring in expert cave divers. It’s one thing to know a cave but cave diving is an entirely different animal altogether. All it takes is a wrong turn or losing track of the line and things would go drastically wrong. Above ground, businessman Thanet Natisri (Nophand “Aon” Boonyai) is leading the efforts to divert the water to the other side of the mountain.

If you have claustrophobia, this probably isn’t going to be the film for you. Even though we know what happens, it still feels like the stakes are at play. It’s an incredibly daring rescue and Howard, again, is no stranger to this sort of thriller. He’s done it before in outer space and now he takes us into a cave network. Behind the camera, he’s approaching the real-life story as a journalist might. It’s one of the reasons why this film is as compelling as it is. William Nicholson’s script is also true to authenticity at every step of the way. The cinematography is easily the most naturalistic that we’ve seen in recent years. Once we’re in the caves, the only lighting is by way of flashlights, helmet lights, or other similar light sources. The rescue isn’t without tragedies as the film is dedicated to the memory of Saman Kunan.

Here’s how incredibly the attention to detail is: the caves are rebuilt on a set. It’s like we’re right back in Thailand. The scale of this film is epic in terms of even the smallest details. Molly Hughes deserves every accolade possible for the production design!

Thirteen Lives showcases what true heroism looks like when the odds seemed impossible for a rescue. Running close to two and a half hours, it’s a real shame that most people are going to end up watching on Prime Video. This is one of those real-life thrillers that also deserves to be seen on the biggest screen possible. Take note, New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago!

DIRECTOR: Ron Howard
SCREENWRITER: William Nicholson
CAST: Viggo Mortensen, Colin Farrell, Joel Edgerton, Tom Bateman, Paul Gleeson, Pattrakorn Tungsupakul, Tui Thiraphat Sajakul, James Teeradon Supapunpinyo, Sahajak Boonthanakit, Weir Sukollawat Kanaros

MGM releases Thirteen Lives in select theaters on July 29, 2022 and Prime Video on August 5, 2022. Grade: 4.5/5

Please subscribe to Solzy at the Movies on Substack.

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.