On June 23, 2018, twelve soccer players and their coach became trapped in the Tham Luang Nang Non cave in northern Thailand. In Thirteen Lives, director Ron Howard details how they were rescued.
While the boys (ages 10 to 16) and their 25 year-old coach were exploring deep into the massive cavern system, heavy rains of the monsoon season began to fall, flooding the exit and stranding them inside.
As initial extraction efforts by local emergency workers failed, fear for their lives grew in the nearby town of Pong Pha. That’s where Howard focuses on Pattrakorn Tungsupakul , as Buahom, the single, hard-working mother of Chai, one of the youngest boys, who serves as the film’s emotional center.
More than 5000 volunteers from 17 countries came together in a herculean 18-day rescue effort, including pumping water out of the sinkholes and diverting rainwater from the mountain above when farmers agreed to flood their fields.
British adventurer Rick Stanton (Viggo Mortensen), a former firefighter with four decades of cave-diving experience, and his diving partner, John Volanthen (Colin Farrell), assembled an international team, including anesthetist Dr. Harry Harris (Joel Edgerton) and Thai Navy SEALS.
Desperate, Buahom asked a monk to bless traditional ‘good luck’ bracelets which she then distributed to the divers. In wetsuits with oxygen tanks strapped to their backs, they dove into the dark waters with zero visibility, swimming against strong currents, dodging sharp stalactites to locate the trapped boys and ultimately tow them out, one-by-one, through a treacherous route.
“They’re packages,” explains Rick. “We’re the delivery guys.”
Scripted by William Nicholson & Don MacPherson, directed by Ron Howard and photographed by Sayombhu Mukdeeprom, this docudrama was originally scheduled for a theatrical release but that shifted when Amazon Studios/ Prime Video took over M.G.M.
Previously, this rescue effort was chronicled in 2019 by Tom Waller and then again in a 2021 documentary “The Rescue,” helmed by Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chair Vasarhelyi.
On the Granger Gauge of 1 to 10, Thirteen Lives is a suffocating, suspenseful 7, streaming on Amazon Prime.