For three years, I have received an annual movie about the Tham Luang cave rescue. First, we had the experienced first responders recreating their efforts in Cave Rescue. Then, the team behind Free Solo made a documentary about the disaster with The Rescue. And now, the story receives the “Hollywood” treatment with Ron Howard’s Thirteen Lives. Despite my personal exhaustion with this story, I was excited to see how this latest adaptation measured up to previous films with more biographical roots.
Pardon the anticlimactic nature of this review, but Rob Howard’s Thirteen Lives is just okay and perfectly adequate – a conventional, crowd-pleasing biopic that we’ve come to expect from the Academy Award winner (A Beautiful Mind). With solid performances (notably from Viggo Mortensen and Colin Farrell) and accurate depictions of search-and-rescue teams trying to find trapped youngsters and their football coach through miles of underwater caverns, Thirteen Lives captivates the viewer. Howard’s version of this story (using a script by Gladiator’s Oscar nominated screenwriter William Nicholson) too often reminds audiences of the dire circumstances but, otherwise, the movie is informative on top of being thrilling.
I wasn’t ecstatic for Cave Rescue or The Rescue, but they’re significantly more memorable than Thirteen Lives because they both had a unique angle to the storytelling and/or filmmaking. Ron Howard may not take as many risks with this more traditional approach, but that choice doesn’t make Thirteen Lives any less interesting.
Thirteen Lives is now playing at Toronto’s TIFF Bell Lightbox.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie