Starring: Jim Warny, Ekawat Niratvorapanya, Nirut Sirijanya
Director: Tom Waller
Running Time: 104 mins
The Cave is a Thai film about the extraordinary true story of a group of schoolboys who became trapped in a cave after a flood, and the enormous international effort to rescue them before time runs out.
You’ll likely remember the Thai cave boys story from just last summer, because for a period of about two weeks, it absolutely transfixed the world. So, you’d expect a movie about just that to be an exhilarating, enthralling watch. Unfortunately, however, The Cave manages to make what was undeniably one of the most memorable news stories of the decade into something really very underwhelming, featuring haphazard direction, a lack of real drama or threat, and unfortunately disappointing performances across the board.
But let’s start briefly on the bright side, with the fact that The Cave, for all its faults, is a largely faithful and respectful depiction of what some feared would fall easily into the sensationalist hands of Hollywood. As a Thai production, the film thinks a lot more about the wider context of the events, with the response of both international organisations as well as the response from and impact on locals, something that could have likely been steamrolled by a more blockbuster-oriented approach.
As a result, you get a real sense of passion towards the extraordinary events that unfolded back in summer 2018, and as is clear throughout, director Tom Waller makes a real effort to include and pay respect to all those who contributed to the incredible rescue effort, no matter how near or far they came from.
However, as genuine and passionate a depiction of the story The Cave is, it’s an incredibly underwhelming cinematic spectacle, and given just how captivating the live events were in the news last year, this film feels like a very disappointing and often even amateurish effort at capturing the story.
There’s a lot that doesn’t work about The Cave, but perhaps most frustratingly, it plays out in bizarrely haphazard fashion, taking far, far too long to nail down a narrative focus on a specific protagonist, and instead jumping about from person to person and country to country as it attempts to bring together the image of a world united in trying to rescue the boys.
Now, the film does eventually take a more direct focus on the story of the rescue divers, with some of the divers from the events playing themselves in this film, but it comes far too late, and you never have the opportunity to really understand any of the characters, their motivations and anything else beyond the mission at hand.
As a result, The Cave is a very superficial depiction of the rescue effort, simply following a general group of people as they make their way into the cave to find and extract the trapped boys, with little in the way of secondary emotional depth, character development or even any degree of administrative, political or physical conflict that would have made the mission harder.
And, as extracting 13 boys from deep within a cave through floodwater is an enormous challenge, I find it baffling just how easy and simple this film depicts the rescue effort to be. There’s barely any sense of peril or danger at any point, with only the last ten minutes of the film actually bringing you deep inside the operation and opening your eyes to the real challenges at hand, and as it spends so much time bringing random characters together in haphazard fashion, there’s never a moment where the film actually doubles down on any other themes beyond the rescue effort, which could have brought more context, intrigue, conflict and emotional drama to the table.
As far as bringing the incredible truth of a genuinely exceptional true story goes, The Cave is a really underwhelming effort. And what’s unfortunately worse is its use of the real people who played a role in the incredible rescue effort.
Much like Clint Eastwood’s The 15:17 To Paris, The Cave uses the heroes of the real-life events to play themselves. However, while it absolutely doesn’t lessen their heroic achievements, bravery and my own admiration for their deeds, the performances are really very poor.
Perhaps symptomatic of directing that doesn’t extract the best out of the performances, the men and women who play themselves seem disinterested, mumbling their lines and doing even less to portray the real challenges of the events than the screenplay, sadly cheapening the intensity of the story at hand, and really taking you out of the moment on a number of occasions.
Overall, then, The Cave is a real disappointment. Despite a heartfelt, passionate and respectful depiction of events, it’s a painfully underwhelming portrayal of an astonishing true story. Lacking emotional depth, dramatic conflict, or any sense of peril and challenge, The Cave does almost nothing to bring the real heroism, bravery and sheer extraordinary nature of the story to life, and that’s why I’m giving it a 6.0.