Where I Watched it: Amazon
English Audio Description?: Yes
I know that in the time Ron Howard has been directing, he’s managed to not hit every ball out of the park. i realize that some of his films are a bit divisive, but i still look at him as being one of the most solid directors working. When Hillbilly Elegy got middling reviews (and Razzie nominations), I stood up for the film because the performances by Glenn Close and Amy Adams were really freaking good.
But, despite hooking in some of the biggest and most respected actors working right now, 13 Lives falls flat. I was a bit surprised that Amazon buried a potential Oscar nominee straight-to-streaming at the top of August, but after seeing the film, I realize this is one of those based on a true story events that fails to truly capture the danger, or the thrill of the event. Watching this from the comfort of our living rooms, while not knowing the outcome, was far more intense than watching what is essentially just a reenactment with a few liberties taken.
I’d love to be able to praise the performances of actors like Viggo Mortensen, Colin Farrell, Joel Edgerton, and Tom Bateman, but the reality is that they showed up to play rather regular men who showed up to do a job and save some lives.
Unlike Howard’s Apollo 13, which took its characters and made them all feel in some way relatable and heroic, allowing us to see the event from each of their perspectives, capturing outstanding performances not just from those playing the members of the crew, but those on the ground. Gary Sinise, as the astronaut left behind, was an especially effective performance, as we saw him struggling with survivors guilt while his friends were still alive.
Howard still has top talent to work with, but instead of trying to dramatize and inflate moments to give us that cinematic “based on a true story” magic, it really just feels like a competently made reenactment. I had a hard time distinguishing between characters, because everyone’s motivations were so similar, and we barely got to know any of them. the film opens with the kids mere minutes before they enter the cave, so we don’t even get hooked into their backstory. Had Howard pushed the timeline back, and introduced us to these kids on a more personal level, showing us the day before they entered the cave, we might ahve been even more invested in those titular 13 Lives. As it stands, it really felt like howard just hired some local actors to hang out in a cave set, and very little thought was given to who was playing who, and what the different character traits and choices could be.
Adding to this madness is the audio description, which is an odd thing for me to complain about. But, Amazon tried to do us a solid by providing real human voices, but this is a film with a lot of audio description needs. Not only is it a complex visual work, with many scenes taking place in a cave, with underwater sequences, and moments of “will they make it out alive?” As they move through tight spaces and jagged rocks, but it also features an ensemble where the majority of the supporting cast does not speak English. As a result, we consistently hear one of our favorite narrators popping in, but they usually have to cover more than one character.
Where this becomes mostly confusing, is in the cave, where there are interactions between adults and kids, neither are English speaking, but all are dubbed by adults. I found it incredibly difficult at times to track who was speaking, whether it was an adult or kid, or which character, because only a handful of narrators covered so many roles.
The truth is, these scenes are not fully the fault of the narration team either, and are a part of a larger problem of Howard not investing enough time in any of these characters for us to be able to differentiate between them. For the longest time, most of them are described by how they look, or their proximity to the one boy who was given a name, because it was his birthday. It all just created this mess that became cumbersome to maneuver through.
To say I was disappointed by 13 Lives would have to mean I was excited for it at some point. And honestly, I missed the boat on knowing this film existed. it makes sense that someone would adapt this story, but to see it suddenly pop up in August, I can’t say I was anticipating this release, or looking forward to it.
Because Howard is still a really talented director, even something Ike this, which ranges on the disappointing end of his films just winds up being average and mediocre. He does enough with it to keep it from being considered a bad film, but in a rotten/fresh type world, I’d have a hard time giving this one a tomato.
Final Grade: C