The Rescue

The Rescue

2021, PG, 114 min. Directed by Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, Jimmy Chin.

REVIEWED By Richard Whittaker, Fri., Oct. 15, 2021

One of the many reasons to despise Elon Musk (and there are a multitude) is when he tried to insert himself into the rescue of the Wild Boars soccer team and their coaches from a flooded cave in Thailand’s Tham Luang Nang Non complex. When his idiotic idea for a minisub was politely rejected, he threw a hissy fit, and then threw slurs at the rescuers who had volunteered to dive and actually save them.

Absurdly, there were as many column inches dedicated to protecting Musk’s feelings as there were to the extraordinary valiance and self-sacrifice displayed by the actual cave divers, some of whom flew around the planet to save the lives of 13 young men who they had never met (and, as it turned out, several of the other rescuers who got stuck as the waters rose). The Rescue, a moving and sometimes terrifying documentary about their incredible effort and the peril they faced, gives the British, Australian, and Chinese volunteers the credit they deserve.

Drawing on a huge amount of archive footage (the whole world was, after all, watching), a wide array of talking head interviews, a smattering of computer-generated 3D maps, and a handful of reenactments, directors Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi take a turn from their more abstract and experiential Free Solo into a more traditional tick-tock explanation of events, calmly reinforcing how mind-bogglingly dangerous the rescue was, how close it came to absolute failure, how many ways those footballers could have died, and how very aware these self-deprecating saviors – a bunch of mostly balding, camera-shy, middle-aged men who relish solitude – were that they might be bringing out bodies, or die in the cold dark themselves.

The documentary undoubtedly runs the risk of a white savior narrative, as it focuses so heavily on the cadre of foreign volunteers who stood and swam with the Thai emergency services and special forces divers. However, that’s the story: While never taking credit away from the other rescuers who also risked life and limb, The Rescue comes back to the bunch of self-described oddballs who got the kids out. As one observer notes, “No Special Force has these skills. Only this private group of people who do it as a weekend hobby.”

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi Films
Free Solo
Staggering mountaineering achievement mixes vertigo with wonder

Steve Davis, Oct. 12, 2018

Doc recounts efforts of American mountain climbers to ascend Meru Peak

Steve Davis, Sept. 4, 2015

More by Richard Whittaker
Down the Rabbit Hole With <i>Something in the Dirt</i>
Down the Rabbit Hole With Something in the Dirt
Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson explain their favorite conspiracies

Nov. 23, 2022

Strange World
Disney animated adventure revamps pulp fun with a story of fathers and sons

Nov. 25, 2022


The Rescue, Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, Jimmy Chin

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Behind the scenes at The Austin Chronicle

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle