In ‘Thirteen Lives’, Ron Howard leads the rescue of a Thai cave


It might be common etiquette not to spoil a movie’s ending, but Ron Howard learned years ago on “Apollo 13” that knowing the outcome of a story is different from knowing the story. herself. And although the 2018 rescue of the Thai boys’ soccer team and their coach is considerably fresher in our collective memories, Howard saw it as a similar opportunity.

“You might know on a title basis that things worked out well, but you don’t know what kind of personal struggles may be in store for key characters,” Howard said. “Through dramatization, through good acting, through scenes, and through filmmaking, you start to connect emotionally with the characters in a way that you just can’t with a simple documentary or with media coverage.”

The story was in some ways custom made for a hollywood movie with its happy ending and simple acts of heroism. The 18 Days saga has already inspired a great documentary, “ The rescue, ” and several other projects. But the reality of making “Thirteen Lives,” which is now playing in theaters in select cities and available on Prime Video Friday, was a hugely complex and sometimes heartbreaking undertaking. Even Howard said it ranks in the “upper quadrant” of his toughest films.

And it wasn’t just about the difficulties of filming the dangerous cave dive into the narrow undersea corridors of Tham Luang Lang Non, which were recreated for the film by production designer Molly Hughes, but of telling the stories of all the people who helped achieve the impossible mission. As everyone would soon realize, there were quite a few people who deserved the focus of the camera. There were the British divers and the Thai Navy SEALS, of course, but also the parents, the boys and the coach in the cave, the civil servants managing the crisis and the thousands of foreign and local volunteers who contributed significantly. and modest.

“I felt a bit like an orchestra conductor,” Howard said. “Logistically, it was very complicated. And I felt a deeper responsibility to get it right on behalf of the people involved than probably any other movie I’ve done based on real events.

Due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, most of the filming took place in Queensland, Australia, with additional photography in Thailand that Howard had to do remotely. This was an obstacle for him because the priority was to make sure the story was as authentically Thai as possible. He enlisted a team of Thai artists and producers to help him, including the great cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom (“Call Me By Your Name”).

“I knew it wasn’t just the right thing to do, but I felt it would be, you know, terrible if we got it wrong,” Howard said.

Another was producer Raymond Phathanavirangoon, who was tasked with infusing William Nicholson’s (“Gladiator”) screenplay with details and nuances of northern Thai culture, the right way to stylize a Burmese monk in visit, the use of prayer and regional accents.

“Much of the film is in Thai, which is quite unusual for a Hollywood film,” Phathanavirangoon said. “We painstakingly tried to find the right accents. Even in Thai cinema, you rarely hear people speak with a northern accent.

Naturally, however, the focus is on the British divers who swam the boys and the coach out of the cave one by one. The roles have attracted the likes of Viggo Mortensen (as Rick Stanton), Colin Farrell (as John Volanthen), and Joel Edgerton (as Dr. Harris), who have developed close relationships with their real-life counterparts.

“What they do as a hobby is kind of beyond my understanding,” Farrell said. “They are truly underground explorers. And talking to them, I guess the most amazing thing was the normalcy they exude. They are not adrenaline junkies.

Upon entering, the plan was for the actors to do some cave diving and complete it with stunt double work. There would be a dive supervisor in Andrew Allen and an underwater photography director in Simon Christidis. But somewhere during the intense three-week training, the decision was made that the actors would do most of the cave scenes themselves.

“I kind of blame the Viggo,” laughed Farrell. “He was the one who insisted that we do it. But I was for a penny, for a pound.

Stanton and Jason Mallinson (played in the Paul Gleeson film) were also on set, and often in the water alongside the actors who accompanied them throughout the process. And it was scary at times, especially for Farrell who said he wasn’t the best swimmer.

“It was as safe and controlled as possible. But there were a few times it was pretty nerve-wracking,” Farrell said. “The full-scale panic attack might not have been exactly what I was having, but there were moments of anxiety, very real anxiety. I guess I’m describing a sort of panic attack , albeit slight.

But everyone was also acutely aware that their experience was only a small fraction of the life and death stakes of the mission itself. It wasn’t a plateau, Mortensen said, where people complained about breakfast burritos, coffee or the weather, especially with the actual divers nearby.

“It was high demand. It was tough,” said Tom Bateman, who plays diver Chris Jewell. “But we’re just holding the candle to amazing people. Nobody ever complained.”

And in “Thirteen Lives”, everyone had a common goal. It is, after all, a rare real example of altruism and global collaboration that needs no drama at all.

“I’m very happy to be in it not only because it’s Ron Howard and it’s a great adventure story and also very entertaining. But it’s an important story,” Mortensen said. is an important example of people doing the right thing together and many people selflessly volunteering for the right reasons, for the greater good, and that’s remarkable these days.”

“It should be more common rather than selfish, greedy, power grabbing, competitive and dishonest behavior as evidenced by many leaders around the world. When you see people don’t do that, you say, “Oh yeah, humans are capable of that.” It’s possible.’ Why not have more? It’s not just a Hollywood movie. It’s like, ‘Oh, it really happened. These people did this together,” he added. “He’s the best of us.”


Lindsey Bahr, Associated Press

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