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Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews

Thirteen Lives | Viggo Mortensen, Colin Ferrell, Joel Edgerton, Teeradon Supapunpinyo, Sahajack Boonthanakit Sukollawat Kanarot | Review

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4 Chicks Small Jacqueline Monahan

Jacqueline  Monahan

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Jacqueline Monahan is an educator for the Clark County School District.
She is also an entertainment reporter for
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Thirteen Lives

Thirteen Lives is perhaps the wettest film since Jaws, Life of Pi, and The Impossible combined. Water is the star and water is the enemy. Incessant rain pelts the worried village, soaking and saturating the streets and people outside a cave. Inside the cave, water surges with a menacing swiftness.

When twelve members of a youth soccer team and their 25-year-old coach (Teeradon Supapunpinyo) explore a local cave in Northern Thailand, they have no idea that storm clouds are literally brewing. Heavy rain turns the Tham Luang Nang Nom cave into a death trap when the monsoon arrives early, flooding and trapping the team on a rocky perch inside one of the labyrinthine tunnels. The team is in for an 18-day ordeal that would ultimately involve the assistance of 5000 people and 17 countries.

The young teammates range in age from 11-16, with one of them turning 17 during the rescue effort. Their anxious parents and community pull together, cutting bamboo pipes and allowing millions of gallons of water to be diverted into crops, destroying them, in order to keep the cave’s chambers from being totally submerged. There is no hesitation. Thanet Natisri (Nophand Boonyai), a water engineer leads a large group of volunteers atop the mountain in trying to stem the water flowing into the caves. Prayer vigils take place outside the cave and offerings are made to the Sleeping Princess, a statue deity that reclines at the cave’s entrance.

The rescue effort initially involves Thai Navy SEALS, before turning to the expertise of two British divers Rick Stanton (Viggo Mortensen) and John Volanthen (Colin Farrell) “old men” to the young SEALS. Australian anesthesiologist Dr. Richard “Harry” Harris (Joel Edgerton) is called in to facilitate a risky, unprecedented evacuation of the stranded team in a painstaking, perilous effort that takes several days.

The rescue effort takes a toll on the men, who must fight against fatigue, currents, and further flooding.

Murky water necessitates headlamps and tight, underwater passages full of stalactites are constant threats of damage and punctures. Even the extreme skill of the divers is no guarantee of success; the entire operation is akin to squeezing through the narrow throat of a giant mouth full of sharp teeth.

Aside from the main conflict of man against nature, there are man-made conflicts resulting from culture clash, municipal legalities, and subtle discrimination. The governor in charge of the rescue operation, Narongsak Osatanakorn (Sahajack Boonthanakit) is the lightning rod between the Thai Navy SEALS and the British divers, along with international press and local issues. One parent of a trapped boy worries that he will not be rescued because he is from Myanmar with no ID and no citizenship.

Back inside the cave the dilemma of how to get 13 frightened, weakened young people with no diving experience out divides the rescuers. Bungee cords and Ketamine come into play in a nearly unbelievable way. With dwindling oxygen and increasing rain/flooding, endless complications occur.

Grabbed from the headlines, Director Ron Howard’s (A Beautiful Mind, Apollo 13) handling of this true story is compelling, white-knuckle viewing. Underwater shots convey peril, claustrophobia, and frustration as rescue divers swim sometimes horizontally on their backs in spaces so narrow they have to worry about making it through with their oxygen tanks intact. Map graphics and a running timeline appear at crucial intervals to illustrate the painstaking process.

Screenwriter William Nicholson (Gladiator) keeps the considerable exposition on track in English and Thai (with subtitles) a formidable task with hundreds of pieces of informational coordination involved. Effective sound design/sound mixing by Michael Fentum, Alex Boyesen, and Paul Brincat helps deposit the viewer into the flooded cave tributaries, enhancing the encroachment and hazard-filled dives to an almost first-person experience.

The film conveys all of the elements of the rescue, many of which were not reported at the time, and Howard’s cinematic flair and grasp of the emotional toll of all involved reveal the bravery, the gamble, and the perseverance of international efforts to save thirteen lives from a flooded cave in Northern Thailand in 2018, the year that the monsoon came early.


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