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Rescue, The (2021)
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by Jay Seaver

"Humbly presented and all the more engrossing for it."
4 stars

As I mentioned in the recent review of a fictional film, there is very little more satisfying than watching very competent people just get down to doing good with their skills, and that's what "The Rescue" is in more or less undiluted form. The audience knows the story of how a boy's soccer team was rescued from a cave in Thailand, at least during the film's initial release three years after the event, so the filmmakers just get down to fleshing it out with detail without getting overly technical.

If you're reading this review or seeing the film later, the Tham Luang cave rescue was quite a big deal in mid-2018 - a dozen members of a local soccer team and their coach failed to come home on 23 June, but their bikes were found outside a cave that they often spent time exploring, one which floods every summer but usually not for another month. The government responds quickly, but a local British expatriate who has spent time in the caves quickly recognizes that traversing the now-underwater passages requires the specialized skills of recreational cave divers like Britain's John Volanthen and Richard Stanton (who, coincidentally, has just met a nurse from the area) - although discovering that the team is somehow still alive after a week raises the question of how you get them through over a mile of a dark, twisting underground river: It takes two or three hours to traverse and even the Thai Navy SEALs tended to panic over a much shorter distance.

Even if this hadn't been worldwide news relatively recently, the title of the film probably tips most viewers off as to how it ends, and savvy viewers aren't going to be too far off when they guess what happened to the one retired naval officer who is brought up by name but not part of the interviews. Directors Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin seem well-aware that this film may have audiences coming at it from different places over time, and as such make sure that they pay careful attention to both telling the story and explaining the story, using clear graphics to show the scope of the situation and laying out what is going on as things progress, never presuming what the audience knows or wants to know at a certain point.

As a result, it's an impressively humble movie. The filmmakers are careful to not push awe at the rescuers too much, wither in the form of a build-up or humblebrag, though there's still the same sense that these folks are wired differently, and not always for the better, that the filmmakers bring to their mountaineering docs; it's just somewhat muted to reflect how their own accomplishments and what they might sacrifice for them are not the main issues here. There's attention paid to more mundane logistics, such as the folks who are doing less immediately-dangerous boots-on-the-ground civil engineering to make sure that rain doesn't raise the underground river and flood the caves even more. Perhaps more notably, there's willingness to step back from emotional storylines that aren't crucial to the job at hand. One of the divers has just met a woman who might give him a personal connection to the area? That's nice, and an interesting detail but Chin and Vasarhelyi are not going to get anywhere near making a movie where a dozen Thai kids potentially dying primarily plays as a way for a middle-class English guy to achieve some personal growth. Similarly, while they acknowledge that there is mythology around this place and a monk present tied to that, it's not what the movie is about, even if one might be tempted to make that a thematic centerpiece.

They also don't see reenactment as a chance to dazzle as some might. On-the-scene documentary footage was relatively limited and often more useful for showing how challenging the circumstances were (even with handlamps, you can't see much at all), so they have to recreate for clarity, but try to call attention to themselves as little as possible, either in terms of being flashy or overly faithful to first-person perspective. By the time the credits mention that many scenes are recreated on-site with the original divers, a viewer will think that, yes, they kind of had to be, but it feels both immediate enough and enough like a regular movie that those in the audience will be thinking more about what they're seeing than how they're able to see it.

Whoever eventually makes a feature version of this story probably won't be quite so humble; they'll want personality-clashing drama, views into the rescuers inner lives. It's fine to make that movie; those things are all part of the story. The route these filmmakers take, on the other hand, makes for great, plain-spoken communication, and audiences so often need that much more than conventional dramatics given extra weight by being based on a true story.

link directly to this review at https://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=34827&reviewer=371
originally posted: 11/09/21 07:17:03
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2021 Toronto Film Festival For more in the 2021 Toronto Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION:2021 Telluride Film Festival For more in the 2021 Telluride Film Festival series, click here.

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USA
  08-Oct-2021

UK
  N/A

Australia
  N/A


Directed by
  E. Chai Vasarhelyi
  Jimmy Chin

Written by
  N/A

Cast
  (documentary)



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