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.

Mark Fields
Mark Fields has reviewed films for Out & About since October 2008. In addition, he has written O&A profiles of documentarian Harry Shearer and actress Aubrey Plaza. Mark also has written on the movies for several publications in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and his home state of Indiana, where he also served as on-air movie critic for Indianapolis’s public radio station. Mark has been an adjunct instructor of film history at Rowan University since 1998. A career arts administrator, he is the executive director of Wilmington’s Grand Opera House and now lives on Market Street. Mark spent the fastest 22 minutes of his life as an unsuccessful contestant on Jeopardy…sadly, there were no movie questions.