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A Complete Surprise: Thirteen Lives Review

Thirteen Lives is a survival drama based on the true story of the rescue divers that saved thirteen Thai boys’ lives. Directed by Ron Howard, the film stars Colin Farrell, Vigo Mortensen and Joel Edgerton. It is a movie that came out of nowhere. Maybe it’s because of Amazon’s horrible marketing strategy or because the documentary had already been released, but this film had absolutely no traction behind it. Despite this, it completely shocked me. Thirteen Lives was not what I expected in any way, let me explain.

Tense

I honestly cannot tell you if it is because this is based on a true story, but this movie is one of the most tense and nerve-racking cinematic (streaming) experiences I have had in a while. Every time that Colin and Viggo entered those caves I felt like I was right there with them. Even though I knew what was coming, it didn’t take away from how horrifying this film is. It doesn’t feel like a standard survival movie. Instead, it feels like I am watching a horror movie and that is an amazing thing.

Ron Howard and Sayombhu Mukdeeprom have crafted this film perfectly. Directing underwater sequences would be so challenging and they both did it for weeks on end. This practical work is so effective in making the audience feel as claustrophobic and tired as the divers were. Having a cinematographer who specialises in underwater photography is an excellent choice and one of the core reasons these sequences work. But perhaps what is most important is that it never feels like a Hollywood movie. Every underwater scene feels authentic and such a stark contrast to the CGI garbage that is being pumped out lately.

The Script

I think the script is going to divide a lot of film lovers. For me, it works perfectly. Thirteen Lives sticks to the events of the story and nothing more. It doesn’t dive into back story, character arcs or even the Thai boys. In a BTS interview, Ron Howard specifically says he wanted to be as “journalistic as possible.” I love this decision. We get to completely focus on this story and not get side-tracked with some forced backstory of our main characters.  It feels so procedural and realistic that it adds even more suspense to this already thrilling story.

Thirteen Lives has an incredible core theme. The film is about community. In particular, the Thai community. This golden thread of sacrificing yourself for others is weaved in so subtly you could almost miss it. Ron Howard does an excellent job of showing that when people come together great things happen. The divers, families, villagers all give up what is important to them for the greater good.

Acting

Everyone in this film is bringing their A game. There is not one person in Thirteen Lives who did not completely sell me on the stakes and danger of this mission. Obviously, Colin Farrell and Vigo Mortensen are excellent. I loved the chemistry between these two, it felt like they had known each other for years. Furthermore, Joel Edgerton comes in at just the right time. He is so talented at being afraid and scared that it added a whole new layer of pressure to the task at hand. These three actors don’t have much to work with and yet I completely understand them as people. I knew their motivations and fears as soon as they stepped on screen.

I also want to shoutout the actors playing the Thai boys. I think they did an excellent job of capturing how afraid and drained these kids would have been. Every time they were on screen, I completely believed their performance and consequently had this constant fear for their lives.

One Issue

There is only one problem with this film, and it bugged me as soon as it started – it wasn’t released in cinemas. Usually, I don’t give a fuck about where a movie comes out but when it is a film like this, it feels disrespectful to not see it on a big screen. It just would have been so much more captivating with proper speakers and a huge IMAX screen. I know it’s where cinema is moving but a movie like this will always make me want to see it in a cinema.

SHOULD YOU SEE IT?

Abso – fucking – lutely. Thirteen Lives is an excellent and well-crafted movie that kept me gripped from the moment it started. While the run time may seem long, it never drags or feels like the 147 minutes it is. Definitely go watch this film on Amazon Prime.