The Rescue: TIFF21 Review

Year: 2021

Runtime: 114 minutes

Directors: Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin

By Caz Armstrong

This is the latest documentary from the Oscar-winning directors of “Free Solo” (2018), Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin who are accomplished at showcasing regular people doing extraordinary things. Here we follow the 2018 mission to rescue 12 boys and their coach from a flooded cave in Thailand.

Through interviews, reconstructions, and never-seen-before first hand footage we get to know the key people involved, the politics and logistics around such a large scale yet delicate operation. 

Despite being all over the news as the world waited with baited breath for 16 days, it’s easy to have missed or forgotten the details. This film puts into perspective just how difficult it was to navigate four kilometers of impossibly tight passageways and underwater tunnels to even find the boys, let alone get them out again. Any claustrophobic viewers should approach with caution.  

With the atmosphere set we learn more about the ordinary people involved in this extraordinary event. Support came from all over the world but it was the British cave divers who were instrumental in bringing the boys to safety. Far from being action heroes, these were middle aged men with an unusual weekend hobby. During the day they were IT consultants, mechanics and veterinarians. 

The normality of these men comes across strongly and makes their bravery all the more astounding. This isn’t something you can just do if you have the right equipment, as shown by the tragic death of one of the Thai Navy SEALs. 

The Rescue

The film is not sensationalised but uses the natural progression of events to escalate tension. The facts here are scary enough to get viewers’ adrenaline pumping without a heavy hand. 

The humanity and vulnerability of those involved is really at the heart of the film. These IT consultants from half way across the world held the children’s lives in their hands. They did not have medical training but had to keep the children sedated with ketamine and tied up for their own safety throughout the difficult underwater journey to safety. 

Conspicuously absent from this documentary is any mention of Elon Musk, his mini submarine and his slander. Without this reference viewers may start to second guess their memories of the events. But it’s a stain on the whole rescue operation which is probably best left out. 

“The Rescue” is a nerve-wracking re-telling of those incredible events and a thoughtful portrait of the quiet souls who were so instrumental in saving thirteen lives. Prepare for claustrophobia, elation, adrenaline and prayers.

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