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Thirteen Lives

MOVIE | Ron Howard’s dramatization of the 2018 rescue of a Thai soccer team trapped in a cave reminds us we’re all in need of saving


Vince Valitutti/Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures/AP

<em>Thirteen Lives</em>
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Rated PG-13
➤ Platform: Prime Video

A special kind of panic comes over drowning victims. That panic reverberates through Thirteen Lives, Amazon’s dramatization of the 2018 rescue of a Thai soccer team and their coach trapped in a cave by floodwaters. Director Ron Howard elicits thrills even though we know the story will end happily.

Thirteen Lives throws viewers underwater. Zero visibility, oxygen canisters screeching against tight corners, helmets hitting rocks, and constant bubbles of respiration—the film is a captivating, otherworldly experience. (The parental rating is for peril, a drowning death, and some strong language.)

Howard drops viewers into the action in northern Thailand. The film has no narrator, and the first several minutes are entirely in Thai. The heroes of the story are Rick Stanton (Viggo Mortensen) and John Volanthen (Colin Farrell), the British divers who find the 13. John’s an introverted divorcé; Rick’s a brusque loner who despises niceties. They hatch the audacious rescue plan to anesthetize the group before diving them out. Both shun the media and awkwardly accept thanks, preferring the quiet of the cave to the chaos of crowds.

The divers were supported by 5,000 to 10,000 volunteers, and that’s the beauty of the film’s title. This is the third film to deal with the rescue, with previous entries titled The Cave and The Rescue. But Thirteen Lives emphasizes the enormous ratio of rescuers to the rescued—and the value placed on the lives of the 13.

If you look at it that way, Thirteen Lives is a big-budget dramatization of the parable of the lost sheep—and a reminder we have all gone astray, each to his own cave, each in need of rescue.


Juliana Chan Erikson

Juliana is a correspondent and a member of WORLD's investigative unit, the Caleb Team. She is a World Journalism Institute graduate and earned a master’s degree from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. Juliana resides in the Washington, D.C., metro area with her husband and 3 children.

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