National Post (Latest Edition)
DON’T STOP BELIEVING
Cast: Richard Harris, John Volanthen, Jim Warny,
Thanet Natisri Director: Jimmy Chin, Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi
Duration: 1 h 47 m Available: In theatres
There’s a scene in The Rescue, a new documentary from married Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, in which a British cave diver surfaces inside a flooded underground passage in Thailand, where a group of young boys are huddled, hungry and frightened, in the dark.
“Believe, believe,” we hear him chanting quietly. And then the same man explains in voice-over that he was talking to himself in that moment, assuring himself that what he was seeing was real. It was more than a week since the boys had gone missing. The rescuers had steeled themselves for the possibility they might find only lifeless bodies in the cave.
But the discovery wasn’t even close to the end of the story. The team still had to figure out a way to get children through hundreds of metres of dark, cold water, along a path that tested the limits of seasoned divers. Another man in that video clip recalls thinking that they might be the last people to see the boys still alive.
The Rescue tells a tale of tragedy and heroism that caught the attention of a planet, and brought human and financial aid from every part of it. In the summer of 2018, 12 young soccer players and their 25-year-old assistant coach entered Thailand’s Tham Luang, a cave system visited regularly during the country’s dry season. But sudden heavy rains flooded the passages, trapping them inside.
The filmmakers use re-creation, computer animations and copious footage from news teams and the divers themselves to tell the story of the rescue. Chief among the players: British expat Vern Unsworth, “the crazy foreign caver”; his countrymen Richard Stanton and John Volanthen, flown in from the U.K.; and Richard Harris, an Australian doctor who helped sedate the boys.
There were, of course, many more participants, including Thai Navy SEALS, one of whom (Saman Kunan) lost consciousness and drowned. Chin and Vasarhelyi do a good job of covering all aspects of the multipronged operation, which included such oddities as an “extraction plan” for the rescuers, who worried that if they failed they might end up in a Thai prison, charged with manslaughter or worse.
The Rescue isn’t even the first film to come out of the event. Thai-irish filmmaker Tom Waller made a dramatization, The Cave, in 2019. Ron Howard is at work on another, Thirteen Lives.
But there’s something to be said for the visceral impact of a well-told documentary, and The Rescue, which recently won people’s choice awards in the doc category at both the Toronto and Calgary International Film Festivals, certainly qualifies. ★★★★