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Thirteen Lives (2022)

To give one example of how Howard misses the opportunity to rivet us on an emotional level, watch the scene where Rick and John first encounter the thirteen people trapped in the cave. As soon as the divers emerge from the water, the reveal that everyone is alive is completely botched. The establishing shot of everyone is uncomfortably garish. Rather than offer immediate support, the divers start taking videos of these starving folks who have been in the cave for ten days. This should have been an emotional shot in the heart, yet it feels as cold as all that cave water.

Thirteen Lives (2022)

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Superheroes may dominate kids' entertainment, but director Ron Howard superbly showcases real heroes who pull off an extraordinary feat to save lives. The plight of the Wild Boars boys' soccer team -- trapped deep in a cave with no feasible method of escape -- seems ripped straight from the comics, where only a superpowered caped crusader could save them. There's even a supernatural element: According to folklore, the spirit of the mythical Princess Jao Mae Nang Non guards the cave, her statue marking the entrance, and locals believe she had a hand in the surprise flash flood. Howard's retelling is more grounded than an Avengers movie but no less sensational -- and far more impactful. These heroes are authentically brave, powered by decades of acquired specific knowledge, calculated collaboration, and selflessness.

It's not hard to see why Ron Howard would want to direct Thirteen Lives, the ripped-form-the-headlines true adventure of the band of cave divers who volunteered to rescue the Wild Boar football team and their coach from the Tham Luang Nang Non cave in Thailand in 2018. The story undoubtedly resonates with arguably his greatest cinematic success, 1995's space mission drama Apollo 13. Both are stories about calm, quiet men trying to solve a problem upon which lives depend - lives at a distance that is both oddly close and yet impossibly far.

In the case of the Tham Luang cave rescue, the distance is only a few miles, but it's through a flooded, unmapped cave complex. Equally vast is the number of people involved in the rescue, so (in no small part due to the complex rights issues surrounding real life events) for narrative convenience Thirteen Lives settles towards the grumpy realist Richard Stanton (Mortensen) and the gentler if no less clear-eyed John Volanthen (Farrell). Two of the first rescue divers on the scene, they're treated with a degree of suspicion on arrival: after all, if the entire Thai nation can't get 13 kids out of a flooded cave, what do these two pale, soft-spoken foreigners think they can do? Well, as events turned out, rescue all 12 teams members and their coach. This is what they do: upend their very average lives to fly around the world and risk their lives in cave complexes to save people.

What may be most astounding about Thirteen Lives is that it feels like a nail-biting 90 minutes, not the gently flowing two and a half hours it is. This isn't simply brisk, it's non-stop. And there's nothing self-indulgent about it. Instead, Howard (pardon the double oxygen and confinement pun) gives everyone's story space to breathe. That's how he avoids this becoming a white savior narrative about a bunch of British and Australian dudes bravely risking their lives to save these Thai boys: although ultimately that is exactly what happened - the international team kept diving after the Thai SEALs were called off. But this isn't some testosterone fantasy. The SEALs stopped diving because they were not the right divers for this, and had lost one of their own in the caves, and the pain in their eyes as they are forced to step aside is obvious. (Howard makes sure to dedicate the film to both Saman Kunan, the retired SEAL who drowned, and a second SEAL, Beirut Pakbara, who died of an infection acquired in the cave two years later.) Outside, the families are given time, as is the incredible work of Thanet Natisri (Boonya), the water engineer from Chicago who just happened to be in Bangkok and ended up running a massive operation that diverted tens of millions of gallons of water from the hillside onto nearby farmland. Howard even gives tribute to the farmers that agreed to let their fields be flooded.

Monitor journalism changes lives because we open that too-small box that most people think they live in. We believe news can and should expand a sense of identity and possibility beyond narrow conventional expectations.

With around 160,000 people dying each day, what makes the world become so riveted when thirteen lives hang in the balance? Over the course of eighteen tense days, millions watched and waited to learn the fate of the Wild Boars soccer team in Thailand after the young boys and a coach were trapped in the flooded Tham Luang cave. Much of the world turned its attention to this dramatic story, and over 5,000 rescuers took part in freeing the team. What is it that makes us focus so tightly on certain events while all around us there is death and danger that goes largely unnoticed? 041b061a72


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