REVIEW: ‘Thirteen Lives’ movie dramatically tells real rescue story of Thai soccer team from flooded cave

Aug 5, 2022, 2:45 PM

(L to R) Thira ‘Aum’ Chutikul as Commander Kiet, Popetorn ‘Two’ Soonthornyanaku as Dr Karn,...

(L to R) Thira ‘Aum’ Chutikul as Commander Kiet, Popetorn ‘Two’ Soonthornyanaku as Dr Karn, Joel Edgerton as Harry Harris, Colin Farrell as John Volanthen and Viggo Mortenson as Rick Stanton in THIRTEEN LIVES, a Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures film. Credit: Vince Valitutti / Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures © 2022 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc. All Rights Reserved.

(L to R)

SALT LAKE CITY — Movies based on a true story have to walk a fine line between getting the facts of what happened as accurately as possible, but also not making the movie into a documentary.  Thirteen Lives, directed by Ron Howard, manages to pull that feat off in his re-telling of the dramatic 2018 rescue of a soccer coach and his team of teenagers from a flooded cave in Thailand.


When a group of teenage soccer players don’t show up at home one afternoon in June 2018, their families are horrified to learn that the the cave in which they were exploring had flooded thanks to the seasonal monsoon rains.  With no one sure if the boys are alive or dead, a group of expert SCUBA divers (Viggo Mortensen, Colin Farrell, Joel Edgerton) are called in from around to world use their unique cave diving skills to investigate.

The divers are pleased, but more than a little surprised when they discover the boys and the coach are alive but trapped more than 2,500 meters from the cave entrance.  But the problem the divers and the government leaders overseeing the rescue operation now face is how to get all 13 back to safety, since the dive takes about 3.5 hours to go each direction, and inexperienced divers tend to panic when submerged for that long.

While family members and then the rest of the world watch anxiously, the group must devise a never-before-tried method to bring the team safely home.  Meanwhile, thousands of local residents work feverishly up the mountain to try and divert the increasing rainfall and give the divers even the slightest of chances.


I’m a sucker for the based-on-a-true story movies, especially when there’s a happy ending.  So for me going in, the question was how well could Howard create the tension without unnecessarily changing the story purely for dramatic purposes.  Also, what would I learn about the rescue that I perhaps did not already know.

I was a little surprised to find myself actually holding my breath in several scenes, as Howard’s use of extreme close ups in the cave diving scenes helped create the feeling of claustrophobia that would be inherent in diving through such tight quarters for so long.  It was very easy for me to feel the helplessness of the family members, and determination of those who were trying to divert as much of the floodwater as they could.

I also appreciated how the movie respected the Thai culture and really showcased the strength of that country’s people.


Thirteen Lives is rated PG-13 for some strong language and unsettling images.  Mostly it’ll be the tension and feelings of claustrophobia that might be unsettling for younger viewers.

Also, there is a lot of dialogue in Thai, with English subtitles.


I really enjoyed this movie.  It showcases the human spirit and ingenuity, both on the part of the divers and those working on the mountain to divert the floods.  I’m glad it was a happy ending and even found myself a bit emotional when one of the divers struggles to process everything he had been through in the tunnels.  I think it’s well worth your time to watch and wish it had a wider release in theaters since it was even more engrossing on the big screen.

Andy’s final rating: THREE out of FOUR stars


Thirteen Lives is streaming free to subscribers on PRIME VIDEO from Amazon.  It had a limited theatrical release in select cities last week, but is not playing in Utah theaters.

Hopefully you & your family found this review helpful! Andy Farnsworth does a weekly “What To Watch” segment for KSL 5 TV in Salt Lake City and also hosts the Fan Effect podcast for KSL NewsRadio. Check out his other in-depth reviews of movies and streaming TV series on

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REVIEW: ‘Thirteen Lives’ movie dramatically tells real rescue story of Thai soccer team from flooded cave