Avoiding the Temptation of the Hollywood Treatment
By Mark Fields
The world was transfixed by the true-life tragedy and triumph of the rescue of 12 boys and their soccer coach from a flooded cave in Thailand in 2018. It’s easy to imagine what Hollywood could do with that story, making it into a heroic melodrama complete with white savior characters. Wisely, and gratifyingly, director Ron Howard takes a much more measured and sincere approach to the adventure in Thirteen Lives, as dramatic and incredible as the true story is. Shifting the focus from the three main characters – all middle-aged English-speaking cave divers (subtly played by Viggo Mortensen, Colin Farrell and Joel Edgerton) – and onto the stranded boys, their anguished families, and the hundreds of everyday Thai people who volunteered to help in the rescue effort, Howard makes a simpler and ultimately more satisfying film. I watched the Disney+ documentary on the same subject, The Rescue, and Howard’s fictional version holds its own, and perhaps even deepens the impact by humanizing the victims. An understated yet compelling movie.