Unless you are too young or a hermit, you probably remember the worldwide coverage of the boys soccer team that was trapped in a huge Thai cave in 2018. Trapped because of an early monsoon season that flooded the cave. Director Ron Howard (“Solo: A Star Wars Story”) takes us on a 2 ½ hour journey that feels almost a little too close for comfort.
It begins with a local team of young teens completing practice but deciding to head over to the Tham Luang cave for a little fun. Granted, it’s hard for me to think that after a hard practice, cave exploring is what I would want to do. But I’m not 14. It all seems OK, but an unforeseen storm drops torrential rain into the cave and the surrounding area.
The parents of the boys quickly realize that their sons are in the cave and are in danger of drowning unless they are quickly rescued. It takes time for rescue workers, consisting primarily of a unit of Thai’s SEAL team, to get there as the cave is located in far northern Thailand. But they have to turn back before reaching the boys and their young coach. Primarily because they couldn’t see in the water.
An international call brings numerous potential rescuers to the area for many countries including Rick Stanton (Viggo Mortensen) and John Volanthen (Colin Farrell) from the U. K. They are grizzled veterans of cave rescues, especially involving flooding. By the time they enter the cave, the boys have been there 2-weeks without food or fresh water. Surprisingly they reach the team about a mile and a half from the cave entrance and the boys are alive. They had managed to climb to an elevated shelf where they await rescue.
Even with experienced rescue workers, the question remains as to how to extricate the boys through the long underwater trip back to safety. Two more friends, Jason Mallinson (Paul Gleeson) and Chris Jewell (Tom Bateman) are brought in while the Seal team ferry food to the boys. Stanton comes up with a plan, but it will require another recruit, Dr. Harry Harris, an experience diver and anesthesiologist. After looking at the options, the plan consists of knocking out the boys and maneuvering them through the flooded cave tunnels with an experienced diver towing or pushing them in their wet suits and oxygen tanks.
So, yes, if you are claustrophobic or have a fear of water, darkness or caves, you might want to sit this one out. It is very realistic. A lot of the scenes are shot underwater and there are more than a couple times when things get iffy. Howard takes his time with each of the boys which of course, adds to the film's length. The film was shot on location in Thailand and in Australia and has some white-knuckle moments, even if you know the outcome. According to the epilog over 5000 volunteers worked on the rescue. According to Wikipedia and others it was twice that. Many countries sent volunteers and specialists from the military, but Stanton and his team led the way. The only fatalities were two Thai SEAL team members. A taut thriller. Recommended.