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The Rescue: Life-affirming documentary thriller

  • By The Newnan Times-Herald
  • |
  • Oct. 15, 2021 - 10:17 PM

The Rescue: Life-affirming documentary thriller


Review by Jonathan W. Hickman

Review Rating: 9/10

“Panic is death in a cave,” an experienced cave diver cautions while describing his “hobby.”

For fun, he and several others outfit themselves with homemade breathing gear and dive deep into the cold, dangerous, rugged blackness of caves. It’s not my idea of a good time.

But these unassuming thrill-seekers might be the only people on the planet capable of rescuing

a trapped soccer team in Thailand. Together with Royal Thai Navy SEALS, groundwater experts, and the Thai people, an IT consultant, a retired firefighter, an anesthesiologist, and their

humble cave diving pals race against time to do the impossible.

In “The Rescue,” Oscar-winning filmmakers Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin (see 2019’s “Free Solo”) chronicle the daring international efforts to save a group of scared boys and their coach. It’s an emotional documentary thriller sure to make several lists for best non-

fiction film of the year.

The story transfixed the world in 2018. A young soccer team went exploring in a cave after practice. A monsoon suddenly appeared, and the fast-rising waters kept them from escaping the cave. At first, the boys and their coach were thought to be lost, but expert cave divers flew in and miraculously located them. They were alive and, for the moment, well.

Getting the team out of that dark hole in the ground proved to be a perplexing task. And should these goofy, cave-diving hobbyists be trusted to do such a complex and incredible job? Vasarhelyi and Chin access a treasure trove of previously unseen video footage to tell the story chronologically. Combing hundreds of hours of video, they effectively isolate and arrange the elements in a coherent, tension-filled manner. This raw approach hooks the viewer almost


Even though most of us know how things ended, having followed the events during the 24-hour news cycle, “The Rescue” manages to generate significant tension. And the use of subject-shot images is intimate and pulse-pounding.

Making the movie during the present pandemic presented challenges, and the directors were unable to travel. They used the ubiquitous Zoom video conferencing program to conduct interviews. Remarkably, the visual palette is seamless, as actual footage is mixed with animations, news coverage, and subject testimony.

At the heart of the narrative are several passionate cave-divers. These nerdy guys like to go where most people do not. And only through years of trial and error are they able to survive inhospitable conditions. The cave system they are required to search is immense, and early on, the Thai government officials admit that if they get trapped in the cave, no one will be there to pull their bodies from the underwater tomb.

A celebration of the human spirit, “The Rescue” is a yarn worthy of narrative, theatrical treatment. But in the documentary form, Vasarhelyi and Chin find authentic humanity that is impossible to duplicate otherwise. And by profiling the heroes so intimately, “The Rescue”

generates goodwill and empathy in a cinematic way. It’s a film that had me tearing up and hanging on the edge of my seat regardless of whether I knew the outcome.

One theme that permeates “The Rescue” has to do with finding one’s purpose. Cave-diving might have started as a fun hobby for the adventurers turned heroes, but they turned their passion into something life-altering when duty called. And this handsome telling of their efforts in Thailand in 2018 is one of the most life-affirming movies you’ll likely see this year.