Does Ron Howard have a thing for tight spaces and movies with Thirteen in them? We don’t know but if his take-me-along-for-the-aborted-moonshot-of-your-life wasn’t enough to induce audiences with capsule claustrophobia he’s back with another – only this one has water, a lot of it, in it.
Back in the day, when many of the things depicted in Howard’s latest effort, Thirteen Lives, didn’t both us so much, we’d be fine sitting through a faithful re-telling of a daring, almost suicidal cave rescue that captivated most of Thailand and later the world. But now, old and scarred, we found ourselves holding onto a pen too tightly or with a breath catching during a certain scene.
Those of you familiar with the tale will find Howard’s telling of the famed Tham Luang Cave rescue entertaining enough. Anyone unfamiliar with the story may be surprised early on as twelve members of a Thai boy’s soccer team visit a shrine at the mouth of the cave with their coach and then dart inside as monsoonal rains develop overhead.
Soon, as Thailand’s famous rains pour down and the boys’ parents realized what has happened, it’s “Bangkok, We Have a Problem” as local people, politicians and rescuers gather and are rebuffed by nature and a daunting engineering problem. For us, at least, it was good to see Thai characters featured so prominently, their characters developed beyond smiling faces on the usual parade of set extras. Then, Howard focuses on a ragtag crew of professionals, people with an odd set of skills that somehow, almost unbelievably, come together when they are needed most – like the team of engineers instructed to cobble together the oxygen scrubbers for a dying space capsule in Apollo 13.
What Howard does is imbue those engineers and the edgy group of cave divers he assembles for Thirteen Lives with – humanity. There are stars you’ll recognize but they are not presented as lantern-jawed super heroes but rather as quirky, oddly-gifted people with talent – though, yeah, it also takes a giant pair of huevos to swim through a dark, flooded, barely passable cavern where the walls start to shift and shapes come out… and, whoa, told you this one brought back memories.
Pull on your wetsuit and give Thirteen Lives a try. It’s in theaters and currently available on Amazon Prime.
Just make sure to watch it with a buddy and remember to share your air when your tank runs low.