This week, I watched two family-friendly movies that involve harrowing feats and a whole lot of water. Although Thirteen Lives is not suitable for the youngest family members, it provides a much better story than The Sea Beast does.
Based on the true events, Thirteen Lives depicts a rescue mission to free a Thai soccer team and their coach (Teeradon Supapunpinyo) from a system of caves where they were trapped when sudden, heavy rain flooded the underground network. Viggo Mortensen and Colin Farrell star as the English divers, Rick and John, who fly to Thailand to search for the boys. Joel Edgerton also appears as a doctor who assists with a risky plan to rescue the team.
Listen, I have given Colin Farrell some dreadful reviews in my time (ahem, Winter’s Tale), but he is wonderful in this movie. Allegedly, the real John Volanthen wanted Rowan Atkinson to play him, but Farrell brings a surprisingly gentle, understated demeanor to the role, giving John a big heart to ground the rescue, and balancing the cranky realism provided by Viggo Mortensen.
The first half of Thirteen Lives sets up the drama at a slow pace. As the movie clocks in at over two hours, I at first thought that the production was wasting time. Then, I realized that the slow pace reflected in a small way how agonizing and frustrating the situation must have felt for the families. And then it starts to rain more.
The story is slightly weakened by focusing so much on the divers that, unlike in The 33, about the trapped Chilean miners, the audience does not get to know the boys or their parents. The ensemble of Thai actors works amazingly to create a sense of the community and the pressure that the divers are under to rescue the team, but it would have strengthened the narrative, I think, to spend a bit less time on the specifics of the cave and more on the boys as individuals so that they do not appear as mere extras in a story that is as much theirs as the rescuers. Pattrakorn Tungsupakul portrays Buahorn, mother to Chai, the smallest of the boys, and her tense performance stands in for what all of the parents must have been feeling.
The last hour of Thirteen Lives raises the stakes with both a risky plan and weather. Little details such as a child-size scuba mask matter so much and that the story is true only increases the drama. Director Ron Howard and crew expertly capture the details of the caves and the technical difficulties of the rescue, balancing a heartwarming story with a lot of suspense. Thirteen Lives is a must-see.
Thirteen Lives, an Amazon Original, was written by Wiliam Nicholson and directed by Ron Howard. It runs for 2 hours and 27 minutes and is rated PG-13 for strong language and unsettling images.
On Netflix, The Sea Beast promises a legendary journey that it barely makes good on. In the story, a young orphan, Maisie (Zaris-Angel Hator), stows away on the ship of Jacob Holland (Karl Urban), a sea monster hunter, so that she can search for the famed Red Bluster. If Holland can kill the monster, he will be made the captain of his ship. Maisie wants to find the sea beast to honor her late parents. Nothing goes exactly as they plan and the journey that follows changes everyone’s views, and their lives forever.
The style of The Sea Beast is reminiscent of How to Train Your Dragon, so fans of those movies will likely enjoy this creature feature. Despite the promise of an adventure story about sea creatures, the movie provides so much exposition that the opening sequence felt endless. Then, the story wraps up so neatly that there was little emotional payoff. For parents and kids who are looking for a family movie night, The Sea Beast provides entertainment enough, but there are more interesting and well-written movies available.
The Sea Beast was written by Chris Williams, who directed, and Nell Benjamin. It runs 1 hour 55 minutes and is rated PG.