When it comes to feature films, Ron Howard has had a quiet couple of years recently. The filmmaker has concentrated on making and producing a slew of well-received documentary films, including 2019’s Pavarotti, about the life of the world-famous Italian tenor, Rebuilding Paradise (2020), about the Californian town of the same name that was destroyed during the 2018 wildfires, and this year’s We Feed People, about the exploits of the humanitarian aid organization World Central Kitchen.
Since directing Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018), his only feature has been 2020’s Hillbilly Elegy, which, despite an Academy Award nomination for lead actor Glenn Close, opened to poor reviews and received three Golden Raspberry nominations. But all that is set to change this month. Howard will make his first foray into the survival genre with his latest project, Thirteen Lives, which gets its premiere later this week.
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Here is everything to know about the film.
Thirteen Lives: The Plot
Recent impressive critical showings demonstrate that the once-maligned survival film is alive and kicking, with some intriguing twists on old formulas. Baltasar Kormákur’s Adrift (2018) featured Big Little Lies star Shailene Woodley and Peaky Blinders’ Sam Claflin as a couple on a boat that gets damaged by a hurricane in the Pacific, while Arctic (2018) was an innovative two-hander in which Mads Mikkelsen played the survivor of a plane crash attempting to drag his unconscious companion to safety in the high Arctic.
However, it isn’t easy to raise the psychological stakes more than by placing your characters underground. In this regard, Thirteen Lives follows in the footsteps of some of the most artistically successful survival films of recent times. The 33 was largely overlooked in English-speaking markets on its release and did poor box office, but offered a taut, economical retelling of the Chilean mining disaster of 2010 with Antonio Banderas in the lead role. And independent film The Last Descent (2016) tells the tragic real-life story of John Edward Jones, a caver who became trapped in a cave in North Carolina, and the ultimately unsuccessful attempt to rescue him.
Thirteen Lives treads similar ground. In the summer of 2018, a boys’ soccer team and their coach entered the Tham Luang cave system in Thailand to throw a birthday party. Before they were able to make their way out, monsoon flooding trapped them in the cave with little food and rising waters. The oldest of the boys was sixteen years old; the youngest, only eleven. Several were reported as being unable to swim.
The subsequent rescue attempts made headlines across the globe and were closely followed on social media. After much drama — and the tragic deaths of two divers searching the caves — the party was finally rescued after 18 days in the cave. MGM acquired the rights to the story in 2020, and filming began in March 2021 in Australia before moving to Thailand.
Thirteen Lives: The Cast
United Artists Releasing
Howard’s star quality has attracted some big names to Thirteen Lives. Chief among them is Viggo Mortensen (Lord of the Rings). The actor’s recent showing in David Cronenberg’s sci-fi horror film Crimes of the Future won plaudits on its release this spring (albeit at the expense of some horrified attendees at the Cannes Film Festival). Mortensen plays Richard Stanton, the British cave diver who was a pivotal part of the team that rescued the stranded party. Starring alongside him is Colin Farrell (The Batman, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them) as John Volanthen, a British IT worker who pursued diving as a hobby and who also participated in the rescue. Both Volanthen and Stanton were later awarded the George Medal, the highest decoration awarded to civilians in the United Kingdom, by Queen Elizabeth II.
Also starring are Joel Edgerton (Zero Dark Thirty, The Great Gatsby), Tom Bateman (Murder on the Orient Express, Death on the Nile), Lewis Fitz-Gerald (Breaker Morant, Harmony), and Thai actor Sukollawat Kanarot. The latter’s extensive experience in Thai drama made him a natural choice for the role of Saman Kunan, a SEAL with the Royal Thai Navy who also took part in the rescue. Last year, Kanarot starred in the thriller series Bangkok Breaking, which is now streaming on Netflix.
United Artists Releasing
Thirteen Lives was picked up by Amazon following their acquisition of MGM earlier this year, which led to some significant movement in the film’s release date. Initially set to arrive in theaters in the spring, the release was pushed back, and a provisional date of November 18, 2022, was settled on. The film will now see a limited release in American theaters, thus ensuring eligibility for next year’s awards season. Thirteen Lives will be released globally on Amazon Prime Video on August 5, 2022.