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July 29, 2022 / Prime Video Canada

Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Colin Farrell, Joel Edgerton

Directed By: Ron Howard

A rescue mission is assembled in Thailand where a group of young boys and their soccer coach are trapped in a system of underground caves that are flooding.

Written By Darren

Rating 2 out of 5

Thirteen Lives tells the miraculous story of the rescue mission to save the soccer team trapped in a cave in Thailand for 18 days as the cave was flooding, but the film fails to capture the intensity of the true life events.

Hollywood is obsessed with giving big screen adaptations to disastrous events that captured the attention of the world, so it was no surprise that the story of the Thailand soccer team stuck in a flooding cave is getting that same treatment. Though, it's not everyday that these adaptations land an Oscar winning director like Ron Howard. Ever since the film was announced, I was excited to see what Howard would do with such an incredible story. The film should write itself: you have twelve young boys and their coach surviving in a cave for almost three weeks with no food for almost the first two weeks, and then all being successfully saved in an absolutely daring last ditch rescue attempt.

However, the film struggles to capture the intensity and emotion of the events. It’s hard to tell where the issue is: the story that was written for the film, or the screenplay itself. Written by Don MacPherson, who does not have many credits to his name nor anything of significance to speak of, the film quickly moves through the events leading up to the rescue mission in the first half. It moves so quickly that you are left wondering, as there must have been more that happened in the first eleven days of the rescue efforts, despite the film blowing through them in the first twenty minutes. Then in the second half of the film, the film shows the actual rescue mission itself. But instead of showing the divers in the caverns, navigating tight caverns and fighting currents and water flooding the cave, we merely see them sedate the young children, descend into the water, and rise in the next large cavern unscathed and unphased. It misses the gripping nature of the story, instead making this a play by numbers story.

Or is it the screenplay from Oscar winning writer William Nicholson, who wrote the screenplay for one of my all time favourite films: Les Misérables. The screenplay is just as bad, giving the actors jilted lines of dialogue void of any emotion, that renders Colin Farrell, Viggo Mortensen and Joel Edgerton to deliver plot points without any emotion and pass it off as acting. Normally we complain where Hollywood overdramatized real life events to create a spectacle, but I will go for that any day over a film that under dramatizes the events.

Then, there is Howard as a director who cannot elevate the film beyond the messy writing.  He fails to energize his cast to make the script their own with any sort of emotion, instead merely going through the motions to complete to deliver a locked film to the studio. Sure, it has been a while since Howard has delivered films of the calibre of Gladiator and A Beautiful Mind, but his more recent films like Angels & Demons and Solo: A Star Wars Story have been entertaining and nowhere near the dud that Thirteen Lives is. Visually speaking, there is not much to look at in the film. While technology nowadays is great for shooting underwater, the diving sequences feature dirty, dark water that fails to create any exciting underwater sequences.

The cast itself features some true talent with Farrell, Mortensen and Edgerton, but it feels like they are not present at all during the film. Sure, the script they are given to work with is mediocre at best, but they are not given the screentime to create any sort of emotional reaction to the circumstances they find themselves in, nor do they attempt to either. For example, in a key scene where Mortensen’s character is deciding whether they are going back into the cave to save the remaining trapped individuals as another storm is moving in, his character is meant to be racked with fear of death and guilt of letting the young boys and their coach die. Instead, he merely stares off screen like he’s looking for his next coffee before announcing “sure, let’s do it” like he has just agreed on what to order for lunch. It is absolutely void of any emotion, which does not help create the stakes for the film. Thirteen Lives just feels like a television movie instead of being an epic and crowd pleasing theatrical experience it should have been.

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