Thirteen Lives – Review

Cert – 12, Run-time – 2 hours 27 minutes, Director – Ron Howard

Retelling of the 2018 Tham Luang rescue of twelve Thai children and their football coach from a rapidly flooding cave.

Much like the actual rescue itself Ron Howard’s retelling of the 2018 Tham Luang cave rescue feels quite gradual. It’s not so much that it shows various different perspectives – it just about manages to avoid jumping about between various perspectives as we largely follow British cave divers John (Colin Farrell) and Rick (Viggo Mortensen) – more that it details many of the setbacks faced amongst the heavy rainfall in the are, which leads to rising flooding in the cave where twelve Thai boys and their football coach are trapped. Yet, this gradual feeling generally avoids losing your interest in the piece, particularly once it begins to focus more on the efforts of John, Rick and their various colleagues, and those around them who have answered the call for help from all around the world.

However, this build-up and depicting of adversities and delays does eventually have its impact when the film as a whole starts to feel a bit on the long side. At almost two and a half hours, with the final hour dedicated to the core rescue effort itself, the run-time certainly begins to be felt at various points throughout the film. There’s a level of interest to be found within the rescue, even if initially it’s described and discussed so much that it initially starts off somewhat slowly, and the way in which it is executed, but a feeling still remains that the film is pushing its run-time beyond a more comfortable level. It causes the eventual rescue to feel drawn out – perhaps as we’re focusing mostly on the rescuers instead of also seeing as many occasional points from politicians and others who are involved in trying to free the titular thirteen figures trapped below.

While the gradual pacing is still present it almost feels different to what comes beforehand, perhaps more down to the fact that we’re seeing a few hours condensed into one instead of almost three weeks condensed into 90 minutes. It’s not a major issue, and again doesn’t detach you from the film, but does perhaps serve as another reason as to why the rescue, and eventually run-time, feel drawn out. Luckily, there’s consistency in Howard’s direction and the way in which he captures the events. At times it feels like he’s keeping things naturalistic, sometimes attempting to come through in the dialogue of William Nicholson’s screenplay, to push a near-documentary style – having made a handful of documentaries in recent years. It works on some levels, particularly when it comes to the up-close nature of the rescue sequence, and a number of key discussions between various parties involved in the early stages of the rescue in regards to just what should be done and who should do it.

Such stylings help to bring you in to the story that’s being told, more focusing on the rescuers rather than those being rescued. With that the light documentary-like touches help to connect you and further engage you in the events as they gradually unfold – the thought processes of the characters, particularly Farrell and Mortensen’s divers, coming across in the lingering shots and moments as things develop slowly for them. Such stylings may change slightly in the final hour as the actual rescue pans out, but there’s still a generally interesting nature which keeps you in place as the rescue takes place, detracting from the slightly overlong run-time.

There’s a fair deal of interest to be found within the gradual pacing of Thirteen Lives, getting across the feelings of the central rescuers, but it leads to the run-time feeling pushed, particularly in the slight shift of the final-hour rescue.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

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