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Thirteen Lives review – remarkable dramatization of a true story

August 5, 2022

This review of the original Amazon Thirteen Lives movie contains no spoilers.

A tale of real events, Thirteen Lives on Prime Video tells the story of a boys soccer team stuck in a cave in Thailand for 18 days and the heroic attempt to save them…

It’s almost impossible to avoid comparisons between Thirteen Lives and Ron Howard’s Appollo Thirteen, another true-to-life account of a heroic rescue against the odds. Both movies share a sensibility (not to mention the same digital title!) and stories of down-to-earth, smart people forced to solve a seemingly impossible problem with the highest stakes. Not so much a battle between good and evil, as a showdown between the strength of the human spirit and the overwhelming power of nature.

As most viewers will be, I was already familiar with this story, given the worldwide coverage it generated in 2018. However, the fact that I was already aware of the outcome did nothing to lessen the tension. I felt watching. Even though I knew everything would be fine in the end (with the notable exception of the Navy Seal who lost his life during the rescue), I was still perched firmly on the edge of my seat throughout. I was totally immersed from start to finish.

That Howard is able to inspire that kind of response despite the notoriety of the story is a testament to the craftsmanship on display in Thirteen Lives. From the opening of the film, you have the comforting feeling of being in very capable and competent hands. He’s a filmmaker at the peak of his powers and the decision to have large sections of the film subtitled while the actors speak Thai (unusual for such a mainstream Hollywood film) is just one example of the confidence of the veteran director with this kind of film. Material.

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Ron Howard has been working more and more in documentaries in recent years and if not for the fact that there is already a beautiful documentary on this same event (The Rescue), one wonders if in a parallel universe it could have end up in the same medium. As it stands, Thirteen Lives functions as a theatrical release with a storyline that contains the necessary twists along the way and plenty of human drama.

Among the host of great performances from this set, it’s a real joy to see Colin Farrell (In Bruges, The Lobster) and Viggo Mortenson (Lord of the Rings, Green Book) do something truly new. They play a pair of underground salvage divers who travel to Thailand to lend a hand and end up being critical to the eventual success of the operation. Farrell, in particular, gives his character the kind of quiet skill you tend to only find in someone who voluntarily spends their free time in perilous conditions.

It would be easy for a Hollywood movie, telling such a remarkable true story, to over-sentimentalise the bravery of the boys or the heroism of the rescuers. Thirteen Lives avoids falling into this trap, maintaining an almost understated tone throughout. It cleverly points out that what makes stories like this so compelling is that it happened to ordinary people, and ordinary people are capable of remarkable things.

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What did you think of the original Amazon movie Thirteen Lives? Comments below.

You can watch this movie with an Amazon Prime subscription.

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