Film Review: Thirteen Lives is a tense dramatization of one of this century’s most triumphant rescue efforts

  • Peter Gray
  • August 7, 2022
  • Comments Off on Film Review: Thirteen Lives is a tense dramatization of one of this century’s most triumphant rescue efforts

In June of 2018 when thirteen members of a Thai boys’ soccer team were trapped underground in a cave that flooded out through early monsoon rains, it didn’t take long for the story rights to be snapped up by various studio heads, all looking for their own take on an initially tragic then, thankfully, happily ended occurrence.

The sheer volume of content created out of this one story in such a short span of time should earn its own telling, with Ron Howard‘s Thirteen Lives coming off of 2020’s The Cave, a dramatization of the event starring several of the cave divers as themselves, and the acclaimed 2021 doco The Rescue, which Howard’s film arguably plays closer to, just in a very Hollywood-type of way.

Despite running at a hefty near-142 minutes, Thirteen Lives literally wastes no time in setting up the premise we come to expect.  Perhaps because Netflix were the first in securing the rights to this story – and, more specifically, the boys’ themselves – that Howard’s film treats the team as the victims they were painted as, and so William Nicholson‘s script lays focus on the men responsible for rescuing them as the main narrative device in return.

The drama and tension put forth in The Rescue is difficult to match, but Howard gives it a raring go, and if you’re unfamiliar with the aforementioned documentary, Thirteen Lives is likely to earn a more positive reception as a film untethered to any other telling.  That being said, Viggo Mortensen, Colin Farrell and Joel Edgerton all deliver impressive work as a trio of men who proved instrumental in the rescue; Mortensen and Farrell as cave divers Richard Stanton and John Volanthen, and Edgerton as anesthetist Dr. Richard Harris, who was one of the most crucial figures in the final phase of the seemingly impossible rescue.

As much as this is a Hollywood telling of the story, Howard earns points for not solely keeping the focus on the likes of Mortensen and Farrell, even though the duo perform most of the heavy lifting throughout.  The local governor, the Thai Navy SEALS, the mercy-praying Buddhist monks, and the gathering distraught parents all manage their moments throughout, with the film doing its best to feel like an encompassing feature overall in showcasing that the lives of these boys and this horrific situation was felt beyond the cave and was a form of anguish for more than just the divers risking their lives.

Though there’s a certain level of predictability to the film due to the known outcome, Thirteen Lives still manages to raise our tensions throughout, layering certain sequences with an uncertainty that speaks to Howard’s mastery within utilising the tropes of the thriller genre.  Whilst it is unfortunate that there’s a better telling of this story available in The Rescue, on its own merits Thirteen Lives is phenomenally scored and a solid example of the triumphant nature that can be achieved through the collaboration of exceptional humans and their shared will and determination.


Thirteen Lives is now available to stream on Prime Video.

Peter Gray

Film critic with a penchant for Dwayne Johnson, Jason Momoa, Michelle Pfeiffer and horror movies, harbouring the desire to be a face of entertainment news.