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Thirteen Lives

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Barely four years have passed since one of history’s most astonishing rescues. In Thailand, twelve young soccer players and their coach were trapped in a cave system being relentlessly flooded in pre-monsoon rains. Volunteers from Chiang Rai Province and the world gathered to help for 18 hopeless days.

Fortunately for that world and the team caught in the cave, retired firefighter Richard Stanton (Viggo Mortensen), tech consultant John Volanthen (Colin Farrell), and Dr. Harry Harris (Joel Edgerton) came to help and ultimately provide the solution to saving the doomed boys. Director Ron Howard, who knows something about tight spots and its heroes (see Apollo 13) and writer William Nicholson (see Everest) have crafted a clear story of heroism and cool in the face of death.

Howard, leagues away from his disappointing Hillbilly Elegy, doesn’t clutter the narrative with choking emotionalism but rather elects to tell the linear story including parents, local authorities, and divers with spare back story but minute by minute tension as the days tick off and the solution remains elusive.

It’s only a short film time until the boys are located but seeming centuries until the two Brits come upon the answer, which is as fraught as any fictionalized drama ever seen on the screen.

Nature with its indomitable rains seems the likely winner when combating frail humanity; in true Howard style and the best of humanity, only one life will be lost, that of former Thai Navy Seal Saman Kunan, dying of asphyxiation after he delivered diving cylinders to the team.

Thirteen Lives is a splendid version of a reality that seems unreal (see the competent documentary, The Rescue). During a time when we have lost confidence in our selves and our leaders combatting a scurrilous pandemic, it is heartening to see real selflessness in the face of tragedy and Nature once again challenging us to be more than we thought we could be.

Thirteen Lives

Director: Ron Howard (Apollo 13)

Screenplay: William Nicholson (Unbroken)

Cast: Viggo Mortensen (Crimes of the Future), Colin Farrell (The Lobster)

Run Time: 2h 27m

Rating: PG-13

John DeSando holds a BA from Georgetown University and a Ph.D. in English from The University of Arizona. He served several universities as a professor, dean, and academic vice president. He has been producing and broadcasting as a film critic on It’s Movie Time and Cinema Classics for more than two decades. DeSando received the Los Angeles Press Club's first-place honors for national entertainment journalism.