As scripted, documentary-style fact-based dramas go, it doesn’t get much better than this. Thirteen Lives is the third film to document the harrowing events in the summer of 2018 surrounding the heroic rescue efforts of a team of the world’s most accomplished underwater divers to save 12 young members of a Thai soccer team and their coach, trapped in the flooded Tham Luang Cave, but it has special appeal because although it’s a long and arduous slog, it benefits enormously from the direction of Ron Howard with his usual polish and skill for making every minute count.
THIRTEEN LIVES ★★★1/2
800 meters from the entrance, in the pitch-black darkness, the footballers were savaged by a premature rainy-season monsoon, oxygen levels plummeted, the cave walls collapsed, rendering the passageways in the underground tunnels too narrow to crawl or swim through. By midnight, the parents outside the cave in the pouring rain began to panic, and the area was crawling with everyone from friends and relatives to NAVY seals. Currents shifted, first responders were up to their necks in
The harrowing events of this subterranean nightmare that were previously explored in the documentaries The Rescue and The Cave are greatly enhanced by William Nicholson’s meticulous screenplay, and thrillingly photographed by Thai cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom, who shot Call Me By Your Name. The first-rate production values are matched by the galvanizing emotional force in Ron Howard’s craftsmanlike direction, which gives the journalistic saga a human dimension that makes you feel the terror and heroism even more. Howard has proved, in recent years, a special interest in realistic human dramas like Frost/Nixon and documentary portraits of real people as diverse as the Beatles and Luciano Pavarotti. Combining all of his strengths in one dynamic thriller, Thirteen Lives is a great tribute to the resilience of the human spirit at a time when it takes a crisis to bring out the best in people.
Observer Reviews are regular assessments of new and noteworthy cinema.