Free Solo is one of the most heart pounding documentaries released in the last five years. Though many likely finished screening the film and wondered why people pursue such dangerous hobbies like rock climbing without a harness. Jimmy Chin & Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi’s sophomore feature The Rescue, seems like a response to that bewildered sentiment from their first film.
The film follows the events of Tham Luang cave-in in Thailand and the immense international effort to try and make sure that all 13 of the Wild Boars youth football team survive. While the story was covered extensively in the press in 2018, Chin & Vasarhelyi still find a way to build tension through a combination of first hand interviews, front line footage, and state of the art digital renderings.
Chin & Vasarhelyi draw from their experience in having audiences connect with an emotionally stunted yet gifted protagonist in Alex Honnold from Free Solo to approach the lives of the international cave divers. The hobbyist crew, led by Rick Stanton and John Volanthen, seem more comfortable from the isolationism that a dangerous cave provides than the social awkwardness from a small dinner party. From a typical cultural lens, these antisocial individuals don’t fit into our fabricated society. Yet it’s their very “flaws” that make them indispensable to this rescue mission.
Chin & Vasarhelyi’s pursuit to understand and empathize with the divers as much as the trapped children provides the audience with an emotional struggle that propels the narrative of The Rescue foward.
The world is a whirlpool of pessimism in the contemporary era. Yet it’s events like the Thai cave rescue that reminds us that amid the hatred, there is still room for cooperation and miracles. While The Rescue may not be as cinematic and boundary-pushing for the documentary form as Free Solo was, the film shows that even the greatest outsiders have a vital role to play in our society.
The Silver Lining
To create a thrilling documentary, there often needs to actual footage of the subject or event and not solely interviews and/or found footage. In the case of The Rescue, this proved difficult given The Thailand government’s restricted access to camera crews in and near the cave.
Thankfully, editor Bob Eisenhardt was able to seamlessly blend real footage shot by the divers with beautiful reenactment of the underwater environments. It’s such a perfect transition that I didn’t notice that the not all the footage was shot on location until midway through the film. It can be immensely challenging to find the perfect shot for one’s documentary film, so it’s a blessing that there are editors like Eisenhardt who can cut together a fully realized environment.
The Rescue is releasing in select theaters on October 8th.