The Rescue – Film Review
by Brian Merriman
Directors: Jimmy Chin, Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi
‘Generosity is the beginning of everything’ says the widow of the brave Thai Navy Seal, Saman Gunan who returned to service to help the rescue effort. He drowned in the treacherous caves that dangled the lives of the ‘Wild Boars’, a soccer team of young boys, in Northern Thailand in 2018. Despite the ongoing Soccer World Cup, this nerve-wracking story dominated global news for three unbreathable weeks of drama, risk and raw courage.
‘The Rescue’ is compelling viewing. This 100 minute long, National Geographic documentary is real life, edge of your seat, cinema. Featuring on the spot footage of this extraordinary cave rescue effort, it is a story of resilience, courage, and faith that the impossible mission was in fact, possible. The work of a local UK resident caver, Vern, was the key that opened the door to this incredible global rescue effort. His UK friends, experienced cave divers, Rick Stanton and John Volanthen answered the call and their courage persuaded the Thai and US Military authorities to listen to their expertise. They led by example.
The Cave divers admit that their marginal sport attracts participants who can be detached, loners, some who were bullied at school and all see themselves as unlikely heroes. ‘The Rescue’ changes that self-perception forever. There are lovely human backstories throughout the documentary. ‘I was last to be picked for the cricket team and now I’m first, for the little known sport of cave diving’ said the key Australian diver, Doctor Richard Harris. He answered the call for more amateur divers, as the Thai Navy Seals, with no experience of cave diving, pulled back following the tragic loss of their volunteer colleague by drowning. Ennis based cave diver, Belgian, Jim Warny also volunteered and went to equally extraordinary lengths to save the boys.
National army expert logistics were thwarted by the challenges of saving the lost birthday party group. The team’s day trip was turned into a subterranean three-week nightmare by the unexpected early monsoon. The documentary records this amazing collection of amateur cave divers that ultimately solve the problems and saved the lives of the twelve teenagers and their Coach.
The cinematography is breathtaking. You are literally submerged with the real-life heroes and the boys in the dense and murky cave waters. Faith, values, courage and ingenuity triumph when all seems lost. Despite knowing the outcome, the story is so gripping that you doubt what you know when you experience the incredible challenges presented on screen.
5000 Thais worked at the hillside. Their ingenious engineering skills battled and defied many of the unmerciful elements, as water levels rose faster than many pumps could work. At times hope is lost, but compassion and courage prevail.
‘The Rescue’ embraces you better than any ‘thriller’. The suspense is unbearable at times. When the Thai Navy Seal Doctor arrives to stay with the team on their ledge, he does so in the knowledge he will share their uncertain fate. The risks taken were beyond brave and are so well presented in the unfolding of this dramatic true story. On-screen, we travel underwater with each of the boys and their rescuers to eventual freedom along the hazardous two-mile-long, three-hour journey. It is a journey you can not forget.
Mae Sai near Chang Rai in Thailand still teaches us today about the best of our capabilities in a crisis. The final word must go to the boys. Their trust and belief, their discipline, courage and optimism are overwhelming. Their calmness is astounding throughout this unimaginable ordeal. Children should never be underestimated and these boys are an extraordinary example of maturity when facing life and death situations. Thailand is also known as the ‘Land of Smiles’ and that is all we ever see from these brave ‘Wild Boars’.
This documentary is as uplifting as it is real. It is remarkable filmmaking. It will stay with me. As another contributor says: ‘You would want to have a heart of stone not to be moved’.