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.”