Documentaries about extraordinary situations are honestly their own genre, but The Rescue manages to stand out from the pack. Directed by Oscar-winning documentarians E. Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin, The Rescue dives deep into a rescue that brought help from the world and escaped tragedy.
The Rescue is the story of when 12 young soccer players and their coach were trapped by monsoon floods inside a cave in Thailand. Sure, a documentary about overcoming an extraordinary situation seems standard, but it’s how Vasarhelyi and Chin use never-before-seen footage from the divers, personal phones, and emotionally crafted recreations to tell a story that captivated the world and moved many across the globe to action for 16 days.
The lasting quality and importance of The Rescue is that it gives an important perspective: that of the Thai and international rescue divers. And while we hear from them—discussing the event and adding emotional depth from that perspective—it’s how Vasarhelyi and Chin work in the footage from the divers’ personal cameras that showcases the difficulty, danger, and fear present as they attempted to save the young soccer players.
If you don’t remember the event, the Thai cave mission required navigating four kilometers of flooded passageways, some barely wider than a human body. Even when rain stopped, the water kept flowing, impeding all movement and hope. While some watched the World Cup, the world’s most elite rescue teams came together, collaborating with the Thai Navy Seals to push through conditions they had never been trained for. Particularly, The Rescue showcases the way that recreational cave divers became the backbone of the operation, and the only chance.
But The Rescue isn’t just about them. The film takes care to craft portraits of key figures who worked to save the soccer team from the divers to the coordinators and more. We get to see the voices of the Thai rescuers on the ground and learn the backstories of the divers involved. But most importantly, Vasarhelyi and Chin capture the desperation, skill, and anxiety that filled the divers throughout the mission that pushed them to invent new techniques on the spot and navigate complicated political dynamics.
While The Rescue takes time to provide holistic stories of the rescuers, it also takes time to map out the realities of the rescue. The difficulty of the cave’s structure, the striking international fear and attention to the situation, and also, the local worry and anguish. The film’s pacing is perfection, working to slowly build the gravity of the situation, tethering down the viewer with anxiety and removing the possibility for hope as the situation becomes more dire.
In fact, the hope comes just before halfway through the film, and is reduced once the rescue teams in the interviews explain how the hardest part wasn’t to find the boys, but to get them out of the cave. As we begin to see the new set of struggles we also see a new set of heroes, the Thai Navy SEALS who stayed behind in the cave with the boys, helping them survive. Additionally, we see how innovation in technology and strategy pushed boundaries but did so with the boys’ safety at the forefront.
Overall, The Rescue manages to tell a story that is “ripped from the headlines” without feeling sensationalized. Instead, it feels like a personal story that encompasses the dire situation and the slow-building hope once the boys were found. There is a beauty to the personal footage used that allows a window into the situation, bringing the story beyond something just on tv and instead into something very personal. There is a reverence to the story, to the tragedy, to the heroics, and to the people involved that many documentaries miss.
The Rescue was screened at the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival.
- Rating - 10/1010/10
The Rescue manages to tell a story that is “ripped from the headlines” without feeling sensationalized. Instead, it feels like a personal story that encompasses the dire situation and the slow-building hope once the boys were found. There is a beauty to the personal footage used that allows a window into the situation, bringing the story beyond something just on tv and instead into something very personal.
Kate is co-founder, EIC, and CCO of BWT. She’s also a Certified Rotten Tomatoes Critic, host, and creator of our flagship podcast, But Why Tho? and Did You Have To?. She also manages all PR relationships for comics, manga, film, TV, and anime. She has an MA in Cultural Anthropology and Religious Studies focusing on how pop culture impacts society.