Thirteen lives (12A, 147 min)
Verdict: worthy, but a slog
Joyride (15.94 minutes)
Verdict: Crashes its gears
The expression ‘the world held its breath’ is a bit too much toiled about. It was certainly true for the Cuban Missile Crisis 60 years ago this fall, but it’s not often that a story that stirs unbearable tension has the entire planet in its grip.
Four summers ago, though, it didn’t seem like an exaggeration. The desperate plight of 12 boys and their coach, who were trapped in a flooded network of caves in northern Thailand for more than a fortnight, touched hearts and minds around the world. (They’d gone in there after soccer practice, intending to stay just an hour or two, but then a torrential downpour hit.)
So the challenge for director Ron Howard in dramatizing the story of the rescue operation is to make it as tense as the vividly remembered real thing. Is he okay? Yes and no, but usually not.
Thirteen Lives is a very creditable film, but meritorious is not quite the same as captivating or compelling. Technically it is very skillfully done. After all, Howard has previously made an acclaimed near-disaster film, Apollo 13 (1995).
So the challenge for director Ron Howard in dramatizing the story of the rescue operation is to make it as tense as the vividly remembered real thing. Is he okay? Yes and no, but usually no
Incidentally, I suspect that in everyday life he gives the number 13 a deviation if he can. In both titles, it evokes the possibility, yes probability, of a tragedy.
Anyway, in the excellent Apollo 13 he worked hard to create a powerful sense of authenticity, and with one glaring mistake – which I’ll get to – he does the same here.
At times, Thirteen Lives has a distinctly documentary feel, drawing somewhat useless comparisons to a real, rather brilliant, documentary on the subject, 2021’s The Rescue, by the team that created the Oscar-winning Free Solo. However, drama allows for things like character development.
Howard, with screenwriter William Nicholson, duly focuses on the two Englishmen, vastly experienced amateur cavers John Volanthen (Colin Farrell) and Rick Stanton (Viggo Mortensen), who are effectively leading the rescue efforts, despite the Thai Navy’s misgivings.
Classic movie on TV
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953)
Madonna, Beyonce and Miss Piggy are among those who have paid tribute to Marilyn Monroe’s immortal performance of Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend. And quite rightly so. A dated movie, but still a delight.
Sunday, BBC2, 1.50 pm
There is friction not only between the two British and the Thai divers, but also between each other. Although they are old friends, Stanton is prickly to the point of rudeness, and not averse to squeezing his mate’s custard creams, I suppose as a rough way of showing that he really takes the cake.
Add to that the families’ desperation and an icy government minister’s ranking of the region’s kind, empathetic governor, and there’s a lot to tell, even beyond the intricacies of the 18-day bailout.
Howard painstakingly goes ahead and narrates it, which is why the film itself feels like a slog after nearly two and a half hours. Yet, just like the floodwaters, the tension builds slowly and sporadically engulfs us.
A brave Aussie, ‘Harry’ Harris (Joel Edgerton), is called in not only because he knows how to dive through caves, but because he’s also an anesthesiologist, and the British couple think the only way is to get the boys one to get them out for one – wearing them underwater for hours – is to make them completely inert, like packets.
It really is a special story, told very convincingly. Except for one thing. Or rather: two things.
In real life, Stanton is an Essex boy; Volanthen is from Brighton. Mortensen and Farrell, who are from New York and Dublin respectively, are fine actors, but think of the number of top Brits who could have put the accents.
Listening to their occasionally tense vowels – as if Mortensen in particular has spent a few weeks idly studying Ray Winstone’s tapes – is a torment from which, unfortunately, there is no escaping.
Olivia Colman and Charlie Reid in Joyride. A sassy 13-year-old, Mully (played nice by newcomer Charlie Reid), goes and steals the taxi she’s waiting in, igniting a series of misadventures of varying improbability
Joyride offers just the opposite; Olivia Colman tries to make all the bejeesus and begorrah sound, and almost gets there, without quite overcoming the rhythms of her middle-class English speech patterns.
In a way, Emer Reynolds’ film looks for the same formula that made Philomena (2013) such a success. Take a widely admired English actress (Judi Dench in that case) who makes her as Irish as the sweet Molly Malone and plunges her on a weird road trip through the Emerald Isle.
Here, Colman plays an unstable lawyer, Joy, who has just given birth to an unwanted baby. She plans to let her best friend adopt the child, en route to Kerry airport for a flight to Lanzarote.
But a sassy 13-year-old, Mully (nicely played by newcomer Charlie Reid), goes and steals the taxi she’s waiting in, causing a series of misadventures of varying improbability.
He grieves for his dear mother and is on the run from his mean father with some stolen money; while carrying all sorts of emotional baggage so that they clash and then predictably bind across the generation gap, there are serious issues to face. Yet the film somehow undermines its own bittersweet story by working so hard to be erratic.
There are some fun moments and the odd nurturing line, but to me, forced Irish quirkiness always tastes like flat Guinness.
Thirteen Lives is in theaters, then on Amazon Prime Video this Friday. Joyride is in cinemas.
Also to see
First there were superheroes. Then there were animated superheroes. Now there are animated animal superheroes.
No bat from Batman, no swipe from Catwoman, is half as powerful as the impulse to monetize us, and in the case of DC League Of Super-Pets (HHHII, PG, 106 minutes), it’s just as daunting if it’s predictable to read about the new range of merchandise (including pet accessories and furniture) being rushed out in a tie with Fisher-Price.
As for the movie, the voice cast includes Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, and Kate McKinnon, and it’s mediocre fun, even if the actual animation is pretty uninspiring compared to what Pixar does. In short, Superman’s devoted dog Krypto (Johnson), while bemoaning his owner’s unfaithful newfound attachment to reporter Lois Lane (Olivia Wilde), reaffirms his doggy worth by tackling the dastardly schemes of an evil guinea pig (McKinnon). who seeks world domination.
First there were superheroes. Then there were animated superheroes. Now there are animated animal superheroes
The script from director Jared Stern and John Whittington (the team behind 2017’s The Lego Batman Movie… oh yeah, I forgot about plastic brick superheroes), is overflowing with wacky puns and jokes aimed entirely at adult tutors and it goes. all but by being vigilant enough.
By far the best release of the week is an Iranian-language film, Hit The Road (HHHHI, 12A, 93 min), a remarkably successful debut for writer-director Panah Panahi about a family urgently driving through Iran to the Turkish border because one of them must flee the country for what we presume to be political reasons.
Really, those reasons don’t matter. This is a film that celebrates the universality of family dynamics – deep love and endless bickering – while lamenting the way families can be separated.
Despite a strong undercurrent of sadness, it is an absolute charmer. I was hooked on the opening scene, where the irresistibly cute but unstoppably mischievous little boy mischievously hides his father’s cell phone in his pants. In fact, the whole picture is worth it for its performance alone.