The Rescue | Review | Toronto International Film Festival


The award-winning duo Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin return to tell another gripping tale of a rescue mission that brought a young football team to safety. 

Vasarhelyi and Chin drop you right in the heart of the action, though slightly lacking the immediate tension from their Oscar-winning Free Solo.  The Rescue spends its opening moments setting up the story of the boys who are lost somewhere deep in the chambers of the cave, and it's not until our cave-diving protagonists step in that stakes begin to climb as we race against the ticking clock with them.

Where Free Solo is more casual, The Rescue adopts a traditional form of talking heads due to the number of voices that chime in to tell the story. It would be overwhelming without it, and the device allows us to connect with each individual as they go through the emotional weight of the task at hand. When cave-divers Rick and John step in, the doc is in full force and off-to-the-races. 

The old idiom "it takes a village" has never been more prevalent than seeing the sheer volume of people that put their efforts behind saving these young men. In a season where we have been so disconnected, The Rescue challenges us to remember that we are at our most efficient when working as a collective. It shows the power of each offering, from prayer to direct action and how that all combined to bring the boys home safely. 

The footage Vasarhelyi and Chin have to play with is a storyteller's gift. There's incredible claustrophobic footage from the cave and from the cave-divers personal archives that amps up the stakes for the audience. Watching them squeeze in spaces too small for them makes it seem an impossible task, and Vasarhelyi and Chin make the story enigmatic, even if the audience knows the outcome. 

There are many angles this story could've followed, and the filmmakers stuck closely to their title, focusing on what it took to bring the boys home. In turn, we received a well-rounded view of all aspects of the story, from the boys' strength to the parents' emotion waiting on them to come home. 

It's essentially a real-life superhero movie. When the men are called in from around the world to save them, it feels like that infamous battle scene in Avengers Endgame. They suit up for battle, and we watch, enraptured by the possibility of what could come next. 

The Rescue beautifully honours the power and importance of the small things we love to do. Vasarhelyi and Chin sense that "superhuman" aspect and nip it in the bud, humanising the men who have since been highly decorated for the immense bravery they administered. They dive deep into their collective psyche, building a portrait of these men who grew up on the fringes and took their solitude to something productive. Documentaries have the power to turn devastation into beautiful depictions of humanity, and the story this could've been is vastly different without our inherent desire to protect and care for one another, even with the odds stacked against us.

Condensing the sheer amount of work that went into the rescue mission to one hour and forty-seven minutes is no mean feat, but the film benefits from remaining focused and on track at all times. Like its protagonists, it battles with the elements, honouring every aspect of the circumstance without ever getting bogged down by them. What is left is the same response the audience had around the world when the boys came through the cave's entrance, one of rapture and pure emotion. 

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