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‘Thirteen Lives’ review: Ron Howard’s gripping tale shows triumph of human spirit

Shot in Queensland and Thailand, ‘Thirteen Lives’ recreates the terror and thrill, the mud and mayhem and fury of elements as well as the fortitude of humanity pitted against Nature.

Shot in Queensland and Thailand, ‘Thirteen Lives’ recreates the terror and thrill, the mud and mayhem and fury of elements as well as the fortitude of humanity pitted against Nature.

Ron Howard does it again with Thirteen Lives. After Apollo 13 (1995) and Everest (2015), Howard and writer William Nicholson, turn their eyes to another tale of the human endurance based on real events. In Thirteen Lives, Howard tells the story of the rescue of 12 boys between the ages of 11 and 16 and their 25-year-old coach trapped in a cave in Chiang Rai Province in northern Thailand.

Thirteen Lives 

Director: Ron Howard

Cast: Viggo Mortensen, Colin Farrell, Joel Edgerton, Tom Bateman, Sukollawat Kanarot, Sahajak Boonthanakit, Teeradon Supapunpinyo

Storyline: Chronicling the attempts to rescue a junior football team and their coach trapped in a cave system in northern Thailand

Runtime: 149 minutes

On June 23, 2018, following football practice, the boys and coach Ekkaphon Chanthawong (Teeradon Supapunpinyo) decide to explore the Tham Luang Nang Non cave system. A torrential, unseasonal downpour leads to the caves being flooded, trapping the boys and the coach.

When the boys do not return home, the parents and local authorities go to the caves where they find their discarded bicycles and belongings. The 10-kilometre long cave system beneath the Doi Nang Non mountain range on the Thailand-Myanmar border has narrow tunnels, twists, turns and dangerous choke points.

A British caver, Vernon Unsworth, (Lewis Fitz-Gerald) who lives in the region and has deep knowledge of the caves, suggests the authorities get in touch with the British Cave Rescue Council (BCRC). On June 25 Thai Navy SEALS arrived to search for the missing boys led by Captain Arnont (Theerapat Sajakul). Chiang Rai Governor, Narongsak Osatanakorn, (Sahajak Boonthanakit) was on his way out when he was asked to stay till the boys were rescued. A former Navy SEAL, Saman Kunan, (Sukollawat Kanarot) is one of the many who joins the rescue effort.

Even as the fate of the missing boys captures the world’s attention with help pouring in from across the globe, (including tech support on dewatering and pumps from India), the rescue attempts are stymied by flooding and the threat of the impending monsoon.

On July 2, British cavers, Richard Stanton (Viggo Mortensen) and John Volanthen (Colin Farrell) find the boys and coach four kilometres from the entrance. Getting the 13 out is a challenge as none of the trapped people are trained divers and the tough, five-hour journey to the outside is taxing for even the experienced and trained rescuers. Falling oxygen levels and the full fury of the monsoon expected anytime, means the rescue would have to be mounted quickly.

Stories of the triumph of the human spirit are always moving. The farmers letting their fields get destroyed by diverting the streams of water “for the boys” or the aid pouring in from the four corners of the globe reaffirms one’s faith in humanity. Then there are the boys themselves, who with help of their coach, a former monk, who teaches them to meditate, hang in for the 18 days it took for their rescue.

Apart from Stanton and Volanthen, the rescue team includes Richard Harris (Joel Edgerton), an anaesthetist and caver, whose special skills are called in, Chris Jewell (Tom Bateman) and Jason Mallinson (Paul Gleeson).

The actors who bought this incredible story to life are all on the top of their game and despite knowing the final outcome, Howard has created a gripping tale. Shot in Queensland and Thailand, Thirteen Lives recreates the terror and thrill, the mud and mayhem and fury of the elements as well as the fortitude of humanity pitted against Nature.

With superimposed maps and a countdown clock and calendar, the lashing rain, the chanting of prayers, the steaming hot food and the darkness the boys are in, Howard has created a certifiable white-knuckle ride.

Thirteen Lives is currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video

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