the great rescue
In 2018, many countries joined forces to help Thailand, which was experiencing an inconceivable tragedy, the disappearance of thirteen young Thai members of the local football team. It will not take Ron Howard forever to set up his story and especially his big idea, since he announces very quickly that the disappeared, whose survival is unknown, will not be at the center of the storyunlike the rescuers who will do anything to find them.
If a classic survival takes the point of view of the victims and is interested in the means implemented by them to get out of a risky situation, Thirteen Lives stands on the side of the lifeguards and more particularly of the two English divers Richard Stanton and John Volanthen. Camped by Viggo Mortensen and Colin Farrell, they played a major role in the rescue of young Thai people.
Even if the facts related come from real events, Ron Howard manages to keep a certain suspense thanks to the chronological and above all very precise sequence of operations. By maintaining the mystery around the survival of children, the filmmaker allows himself to focus almost exclusively on the technical and operational side of the rescue and refuses the expected sentimentality when we talk about disappearance (especially that of children stuck in an almost totally submerged cave).
But the suspense is not entirely based on the idea of finding the group, because quite early in the film, the children are found and Thirteen Lives changes direction. Thus, the challenge is no longer to find the missing, but to get them out, an even more risky operation.
Heroism with a capital H
Thirteen Lives therefore stands out from the survivors, but it does not dehumanize its heroes who, literally, have the lives of the thirteen Thais in their hands. The film also emphasizes the responsibility of divers by recalling the difficulty of the operation thanks to numerous means of staging and editing.
Thanks to the on-board camera with many submerged shotsthe spectator finds himself embarked as close as possible to the divers and their anxieties. Immersion is not only visual, but also soundthanks in particular to the breathing noises of the divers who constantly observe the level of oxygen in their bottles dropping. Ron Howard constantly reminds us that despite their great technicality, divers remain human and that the intervention is as risky for the victims as for the rescuers.
At the heart of the action
Between the speeches of specialists and the technical terms, Thirteen Lives could have lost its spectator, but thanks to such stupid and effective means as making a map of the cave appear several times overlaying the image, the exploration and the issues arising from it are legible. Moreover, in addition to this map, the depth level of the divers at this precise moment also appears, the duration of the dive and above all, the number of days elapsed which allows, in addition to allowing the spectator to navigate , to dramatize the operation and to insist on its complexity.
The editing, which often alternates between the interior of the cave and the exterior, makes it possible to realize the immensity of the challenge, because if in the cave the tension is palpable, the extraction of the children is not the only stakes. Indeed, while everyone is preoccupied with the rescue, the ever-pouring rain threatens to make the rescue inconceivable. Thanks to that race against timeor rather against the elements, Thirteen Lives manages to keep his spectator in suspense until the end.
If the other participants in the operation are also shown, such as the volunteers struggling to redirect the rainwater that flows down the mountain and threatens to flood the cavethey are not put forward as much as the two English, quickly joined by the Australian Richard Harris, played by Joel Edgerton.
These other difficulties are all too quickly swept away, and the point of view of the parents, the first affected by the tragedy, is unfortunately too little exploited. Despite these few often interesting evocations of the exterior, such as the creation of a temporary village and places of prayer around the cave, but also the mobilization of farmers who agree to drown their harvest, Ron Howard’s film is not not a film on the event in its entirety (despite its duration of 2h30), but of course the extraction itself.
The man for the job
By dint of insisting on his English (and Australian) heroes, one wonders if Ron Howard is not trying to erase the work of the Thais, who also took part in the rescue, for the benefit of his white heroes. It is by showing the general involvement, particularly of civilians, that the filmmaker manages to dose this heroism that he likes so much to stage in his works.
Bet raised for Ron Howard who manages to deliver a story full of tension, even if the story it tells and its outcome are already known and especially without adopting the point of view of the victims.
Treize vies is available on Amazon Prime Video since August 5, 2022 in France