Thirteen Lives


A Great Contribution to the Canon of Hollywood Comeback Movies is Thirteen Lives

Jeremy Caroll

A mere four years after the actual event, Ron Howard‘s Thirteen Lives, a “rescue movie” based on the true story of the Tham Luang cave rescue, is released. This must be a Hollywood first. Twelve Thai schoolboy football players, ages 11 to 16, were stranded inside the flooded Tham Luang Nang Noncave in Chiang Rai province, Northern Thailand, along with their coach. Everyone imprisoned was freed after a two-week ordeal owing to a tremendous, globally coordinated operation from Thai military SEALs, cave divers, and medical professionals from all around the world.

Thirteen Lives (1)

Despite the talented cast they had assembled—Colin Farrell and Viggo Mortensen as British cave divers John Volanthen and Richard Stanton, with Joel Edgerton and Tom Bateman in supporting roles—I was skeptical about how Thirteen Lives would fare given the short turnaround time.

But Howard and the incredibly gifted actors have created a beautifully filmed, compassionately written film that struggles to fit the Hollywood rescue movie mould while still managing to uphold its highest ideals.


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Even though Thirteen Lives is a great contribution to the canon of Hollywood rescue movies, it stands out from the rest of the pack due to its unique visual style and absence of “rousing,” Howard Shore-style background music. This demonstrates Howard’s knowledge of genre conventions and his readiness to “react” to them.

Rescue and search

Hollywood aficionados have discovered that Matt Damon is constantly in need of saving, just as Bollywood tragics have come to realize that Jimmy Sheirgill never gets the girl. He portrayed a man named Mann in Christopher Nolan’s 2014 science fiction film Interstellar, who becomes stranded on a hostile planet and plans a complex rescue operation for himself. He starred in Ridley Scott’s The Martian the next year, which literally had the phrase “Bring Him Home” on the poster. However, Damon’s career began many years ago with a timeless rescue: Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan (1994), alongside Tom Hanks, Tom Sizemore, and Edward Burns.

This, in my opinion, is still one of the great man’s best projects overall, and it helped him win his second Best Director Oscar. The superb cinematography by Janusz Kaminski in particular gave the fast-paced military drama that was playing out a true edge.

We were completely concerned about the destinies of Private James Ryan (Damon) and everyone searching for him in the contentious hamlet of Neuville, despite the fact that the film had an issue with overt sentimentality similar to another Tom Hanks classic, Forrest Gump.

As Saving Private Ryan demonstrated, Tom Hanks is in many respects Hollywood’s prototypical Everyman, which makes him the ideal choice to star in a rescue movie. Another Hanks-led rescue classic that I particularly loved was Captain Philips (2013).

Captain Philips, a film directed by Paul Greengrass (who also made the Matt Damon-starring Jason Bourne trilogy), is based on the real-life hero of the same name, whose ship, the Maersk Alabama, was captured by Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean in 2009. Both critics and viewers praised Hanks’ performance. In this action-packed story, Hanks plays a variety of roles—victim, hero, rescuer, and victim—and his subtle emotional shifts are on full display.

The 2017 war film by Christopher Nolan Dunkirk was a remarkable technological achievement, especially in terms of its fundamental idea of depicting the actual evacuation efforts virtually wordlessly. Young actors with promise like Barry Keoghan and Fionn Whitehead shared the screen with veteran Nolan players like Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, and the legendary Kenneth Branagh. Once more, this was a movie that was very much intended for a big screen, and the realistic effects used were excellent.

The rescue film has fallen victim to a cycle of sameness in recent years, much like many other Hollywood mainstays. Consider John Krasinski, the boy next door in Hollywood, who played the endearing Jim Halpert in The Office. In his most recent films, Krasinksi has starred as macho, all-American heroes who are firmly entrenched in the role of the white savior in a series of military thrillers. These include the movie 13 Hours and the newly renewed third season of the Jack Ryan series on Amazon Prime Video. According to Alison Willmore in 2018,

While director Michael Bay stated that his movie had ‘no political intent’ and that its January release during the presidential campaign was not deliberate, many individuals on both sides of the political spectrum took it in a different way. The film 13 Hours attempted to strike a balance between somber cinema on actual American tragedies and a swaggering extravaganza from the director of Armageddon.

Nothing about Krasinski’s new appearance contributed to the strangeness of viewing him in the situation. It resulted from the cognitive dissonance of witnessing an actor, whose on-screen persona had previously leaned so heavily toward the funny-snarky-sensitive, surrounded by machismo, brandishing an assault rifle, muttering about government incompetence, and barking frustration at CIA agents who are depicted as haughty, sniveling Ivy League snobs.

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