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Thirteen Lives”—An Unlucky Number?

Thirteen Lives (directed by Ron Howard) retells the heart-pounding rescue mission from June 23,  2018.  A dozen Thai soccer players, aged 11 to 16, and their coach were trapped in a flooded, terrifyingly claustrophobic cave system during an unexpected monsoon rainstorm in northern Thailand. 

A massive international rescue effort of more than 10,000 people are deployed to save the  twelve soccer players and their coach.  Will rescuers be able to deliver them to safety without a loss of life?  Potential disaster lurks around every twist in the labyrinthine caves where the usual laws of breathing and gravity do not apply due to tight underground tunnels, stalactites, zero visibility, and surging currents. 

­­­This breathtakingly­­­­ tense story of plugging sinkholes, sandbagging, and diverting the pumped-out cave water into the farmers’ fields reveals how families and local rescuers unite to save the village boys, no matter what the cost and sacrifice.   Most of all, Thirteen Lives is a stunning tribute to teamwork and human endurance in one of the most nightmarish, panic-inducing environments on earth – a flooded, suffocatingly narrow, dark cave of rising, murky water.

Thai Navy SEALS begin the rescue operation, but are trained for open-water diving, not cave-diving missions.  Not trained to squeeze their diving gear into impossibly constricted cave channels, they can only reach halfway down the tunnel network before their gear blocks further progress.  Even with headlamps, the only way the rescue divers can find their way out and not get lost in the cave network is by keeping hold of a guide rope. 

A  British expat living in the village suggests bringing in two world-renowned divers from Britain, with 30 years’ experience in cave rescue: John Volanthen (Colin Farrell) and Richard Stanton (Viggo Mortensen). The Thai SEALS are initially reluctant to delegate the mission to the “old men,” but begrudgingly agree to the Brits’ assistance as the rescue seems to be doomed.   The soccer team and their coach could already be dead. 

Soon Volanthen and Stanton run out of options.  An Australian diver,  Richard “Harry” Harris (Joel Edgerton), may provide a possible but never-tried-before solution.   The hair-raising rescue mission intensifies dramatically when Volanthen (Colin Farrell) and Rick Stanton (Viggo Mortensen) map out an extremely risky, mind-boggling way to save the boys and their coach. 

And while they debate whether to use Harris’s expertise, the boys and their coach grow increasingly emaciated, at the cusp of dying of thirst, lack of food and hopelessness.  Their coach instructs them to meditate to give them the strength to calm their minds and be strong for each other.

While flawed and clearly in need of editing (to reduce the two hours in length) as well as more of the soccer team and the divers’ backstories, Thirteen Lives is a remarkable cinematic feat which submerges the viewer as much as the actors who are submerged!

Availability:  Amazon Prime

Note: Celebrated Thai cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom (Call Me by Your NameSuspiria) and set designer Molly Hughes (Harry Potter series) built the tanks and caves at the filming location in Queensland, Australia. The result is an incredibly realistic cave system that is disorienting, distorting, and immersive. 

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