In June and July 2018, the members of a junior football team were trapped for 18 days in Thailand’s Tham Luang Nang Non cave, after heavy rainfall flooded the cave system and blocked their way out. As the team – who ranged in age from 11-16 years old – and their coach remained trapped for weeks, the situation attracted global interest and an international rescue team was assembled to locate them. Howard’s film will chronicle the events of the rescue, focusing on the efforts of the divers to save the trapped team members.
Viggo Mortensen and Colin Farrell lead the ensemble cast as Rick Stanton and John Volanthen, the British cave divers who volunteered their expertise to help find the group alongside Australian diver and anesthetist Harry Harris (Joel Edgerton) and Chris Jewell (Tom Bateman). Sahajak ‘Poo’ Boonthanakit portrays Governor Narongsak, who headed the rescue operation, with Teeradon ‘James’ Supapunpinyo playing Ekkaphon Chanthawong, the team’s assistant coach. Rounding out the cast are Paul Gleeson, Pattrakorn Tungsupakul, Tui Thiraphat Sajakul, James Teeradon Supapunpinyo and Weir Sukollawat Kanaros.
The trailer promises that audiences will “witness the greatest rescue, the world has ever seen” as footage shows the young boys entering the cave system on a whim, only to become entombed by the powerful, rushing water that floods it.
“It looks easy, but when it’s flooded, it’s impossible,” Farrell’s Volanthen warns about the cave, while Mortensen’s Stanton is later shown explaining that the diving pathway is “barely shoulder wide, pulling against very strong currents.”
The clip follows the daring and dangerous rescue attempt as Stanton, Volanthen, Harris and Jewell worked with Thai officials — including Commander Kiet (Thira ‘Aum’ Chutikul) and Dr. Karn (Popetorn ‘Two’ Soonthornyanaku), pictured above — in effort to save all thirteen people, despite the odds.
In one scene, Farrell and Mortensen are shown surfacing from underwater to find the trapped team — “How many of you? Thirteen?” Farrell questions, as Mortensen gasps, relieved, “They’re all alive.” — but locating the team is only the beginning. The real challenge comes with finding a way to get them out.
“You try to dive those kids the whole way, all you’ll be bringing out is dead bodies,” Mortensen cautions in another scene.
Howard directs from a screenplay written by William Nicholson, based on a story Nicholson developed with Don MacPherson. During a virtual press conference touting the trailer’s launch, Howard explained why he was drawn to Nicholson’s script.
“It not only delivered on everything that I had recalled, but it just suggested so much more. There were just more levels and dimensions to the heroics, to the people involved, especially the Thai people,” Howard shared.
Thus, the Academy Award-winning filmmaker set about the task of crafting the movie with the goal of making “something really visceral and immediate and do what a scripted version of a telling of a true story is supposed to do — which is to make it more engaging, to engage the nervous system of the audience, in addition to trying to give all the information.”
Howard also produced “Thirteen Lives” with Brian Grazer, William M. Connor, Karen Lunder, Gabrielle Tana and P.J. van Sandwijk. Carolyn Marks Blackwood, Jason Cloth, Aaron L. Gilbert, Michael Lesslie and Marie Savare executive produce. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer produces the film with Howard and Grazer’s production banner Imagine Entertainment and Bron Creative.
Watch the full trailer for the film below.
Previously dated for Nov. 18, 2022, the MGM movie is now under the Amazon umbrella after the company closed an $8.5 billion acquisition of the historic film studio in March. As such, film will be released in select theaters on July 29 for limited one-week engagements before launching globally on Prime Video on Aug. 5 as one of the company’s “summer tentpoles.”
Variety exclusively reported plans for the shift in May, as Amazon Studios head Jennifer Salke explained the rationale behind the move.
“When we saw ‘Thirteen Lives,’ we got incredibly excited about what this could be on a global premiere, about what this could do for customers all over the world,” Salke told Variety at the time. “It feels like the ultimate inspirational story of hope, determination and triumph.”
And by maintaining the film’s qualifying theatrical release alongside the streaming run, Amazon also affirmed the film’s position as an early awards season contender.
“We’re trying to continue the legacy of ‘Manchester by the Sea,’ ‘The Big Sick,’ ‘Being the Ricardos’ [to] keep the high quality bar going, while bringing the movie to as many people as possible,” Salke noted. “We think this movie can do both.”
To note, Howard’s retelling of the dramatic tale isn’t Hollywood’s first project about the cave rescue. The 2021 documentary “The Rescue,” also produced by P.J. van Sandwijk, employed real footage of the rescue , which filmmakers Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi worked for two years to obtain from the Thai Navy SEALs. Watch that footage here.