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  • Debbie Cerda

Explore the Extraordinary Rescue of THIRTEEN LIVES

Directed by Ron Howard (A Beautiful Mind, Apollo 13, Frost/Nixon) with a screenplay by William Nicholson (Gladiator) based on the story by Nicholson and Don Macpherson (The Gunman), Amazon Original Thirteen Lives is a dramatization of the incredible true tale of the international effort to rescue the Wild Boars, a Thai soccer team. Twelve members of the team, aged 11 to 16, and their 25-year-old assistant coach, Ekkapol "EK" Chantawong (Teeradon Supapunpinyo) entered the cave on June 23, 2018, after a practice session. They became trapped in the Tham Luang cave in northern Thailand during an unexpected rainstorm.

The group spent nine nights lost in the cave, living on very little food and water, until a rescue diver spotted them deep in the twisting cave complex, huddled on a patch of dirt above the rising water line. That pivotal moment was captured on video, and then broadcasted to the world.

An international team of the most skilled and experienced divers, uniquely trained to navigate the maze of flooded, narrow cave tunnels were assembled. It took another eight days before the stranded group was safely rescued with the support of Thai forces including Thai Navy Seals, along with 10,000 volunteers on the ground. A team of expert divers guided each of the boys out of the cave on special stretchers after anesthetizing them to keep them calm enough to transport.

The operation relied on strategic placement of lights, guide ropes and oxygen canisters along the path as the divers maneuvered through twisting passageways filled with muddy water and strong currents. Locals worked for days to divert the water from flooding the cave, including farmers who sacrificed their harvest by allowing their rice paddies to serve as stormwater catch basins.

Thirteen Lives director Howard along with cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom build and deliver a riveting and authentic depiction of the drama and tension surrounding the children, their coach, rescuers, engineers, and divers in this extraordinary rescue. As in Apollo 13, Howard breaks down the crisis into several smaller technical challenges experienced by the rescuers.

The ensemble cast does an outstanding job of bringing these divers lives into focus, including Viggo Mortensen and Colin Farrell as British diving experts Rick Stanton and John Volanthen, respectively; Joel Edgerton as quasi-anesthetist and cave diver Richard “Harry” Harris; Tom Bateman as cave diver Chris Jewell; Thira Chutikul as Commander Kiet; and Popetorn Soonthornyanakij as Dr. Karn.

While screenwriter Nicholson took creative license with some of the dialogue and characters, overall Thirteen Lives is quite historically accurate for a dramatization. Diver Rick Stanton praised the film's accuracy, with the observation that in reality there was zero visibility due to the muddy water. "That would be impossible to demonstrate because then the viewers would not see anything" Stanton stated in an Entertainment Weekly interview.

With a runtime of 2 hours and 27 minutes, viewers may assume that Thirteen Lives is overly lengthy. Don’t discount the movie for that reason though. The length can be justified based on the complexity and duration of the actual event, and is a vital aspect of an immersive experience into this survival story that beats the odds.


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