Thirteen Lives (Review)

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

Director: Ron Howard
Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Colin Farrell, Joel Edgerton, Tom Bateman
Certificate: 15
Run Time: 147 mins

Thirteen Lives is a biographical retelling of the nail-biting 2018 Tham Lang cave rescue in northern Thailand. The film is directed by industry veteran Ron Howard, whose had hits such as Rush and Frost / Nixon and stinkers such as The Da Vinci Code series and his previous Oscar-bait failure Hillbilly Elegy. The film is told from the perspective of the rescue crew, rather than the school kids stuck inside with their football teacher. Viggo Mortensen and Colin Farrell play Richard Stanton and John Volanthen, two British divers who specialise in cave rescue. 

Thirteen Lives is a tremendous piece of work and is quite possibly Ron Howard’s best film. Despite its two and a half hour length, it’s taut and constantly maintains tension. The film does a great job of re-dramatising the narrative from different perspectives, be it the local farmers whose land need to be flooded so the water can be diverted away from the cave, to the governor trying to manage the situation and facing pressure from his seniors. 

Both Viggo Mortensen and Colin Farrell are excellent, although it took me a couple of scenes to buy their British accents. They dive into the roles and underplay their characters. Mortensen particularly relies more on facial expression and body language than spoken language. Joel Edgerton is also excellent as an anaesthetist and Tom Bateman is another highlight as Chris Jewell, who despite being an experienced diver is more of a rookie to cave rescue compared to the rest of the team. 

It’s brilliantly shot by Sayombhu Mukdeeprom, most acclaimed for his collaborations with Suspiria director Luca Guadagnino. Mukdeeprom thrillingly captures both the claustrophobia of the situation and the serene yet threatening rural surroundings. The score by Benjamin Wallfisch is fitting, although I wish it were more memorable.

Thirteen Lives is a heart-pounding retelling of the Thai cave rescue. Despite us knowing the outcome, Howard manages to direct the film in an unshowy and skilful way that allows you to be on the edge of your seat and you wonder if the boys are going to survive. It’s one of the best films of the year.   

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

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