Starring: John Volanthen, Rick Stanton, Richard Harris
Director: Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, Jimmy Chin
Running Time: 107 mins
The Rescue is an American documentary about the remarkable Tham Luang operation, in which an international team of divers aimed to retrieve a team of boys stranded deep inside a flooded cave.
Following on from the success of their staggeringly beautiful documentary Free Solo, Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin return with another spectacular love letter to extreme outdoors activities, but this time tinged with more grounded emotional depth, as we look into the world-famous rescue of the boys trapped in a Thai cave.
However, if you’re looking for a bog-standard retelling of the events that unfolded at the cave in summer 2018, then this isn’t the first film you’ll want to watch. While The Rescue is an insightful, moving and visually spectacular look into the affair, it focuses more heavily on the story around the individuals who came to take part in the rescue mission.
A more standard dramatisation of the story is 2019’s The Cave, however The Rescue far outstrips that film when it comes to insight and emotional depth, delivering an absolutely enthralling study of how the people who executed the rescue came to be there.
And this is how The Rescue serves more as a love letter to cave diving than a pure retelling of the events of the rescue mission itself. Much like the directing pair’s previous films Meru and Free Solo, this film is all about understanding the personalities who involve themselves in an extreme activity like cave diving, why they do it, and the stories that have emerged from their pursuits in this most unusual of hobbies.
That more intimate focus means that The Rescue is a far more layered film than simply watching and hoping the boys trapped in the cave will be saved. Of course, as the story develops, the film puts a lot of emphasis on the tension and drama that surrounded the rescue operation, but it only does so once you’ve developed a strong understanding of the perils of cave diving, and a connection with the people who do it.
Complete with intimate, insightful interviews with the volunteer divers from around the world who carried out the most daring parts of the rescue mission, The Rescue really brings you deep into the world of cave diving, establishing immense emotional stakes that then lead brilliantly into the highly fraught rescue mission at the cave in Thailand.
With brilliant use of visual effects and re-enactments using the actual divers involved in the mission, The Rescue shows you in immense detail just how the mission was pulled off, with an immersive portrayal of the physical space of the cave in which the boys were trapped, and the ever-worsening conditions that meant time was of the essence in their retrieval.
Admittedly, the more claustrophobic setting for this story means that it doesn’t have the same jaw-dropping spectacle as Free Solo, which used its staggering scenery to take its story to an almost ethereal level, but The Rescue certainly doesn’t lag behind when it comes to portraying its story in insightful, moving and gripping fashion.
Spectacularly blending a love letter to cave diving with a step-by-step insight into the execution of the rescue mission, The Rescue is a brilliantly enthralling documentary from start to finish, shining new lights on an already world-famous story and the heroes who bravely came in to save the day. So, that’s why I’m giving The Rescue an 8.0 overall.