The 33, 2015.
Directed by Patricia Higgen.
Starring Antonio Banderas, Rodrigo Santoro, Lou Diamond Phillips, Juliette Binoche, James Brolin, Juan Pablo Raba, Bob Gunton, and Gabriel Byrne.
Based on the real-life event, when a gold and copper mine collapses, it traps 33 miners underground for 69 days.
As the opening credits are flashed (while we get some gorgeous overhead shots of Chile’s scorchingly hot Atacama Desert), it settles in just how disastrous the San Jose mining incident of 2010 was in scale, as what certainly feels like close to 30 names are rattled off. This also left me a little flaky on what was to come, as after having watched Everest earlier this year (which contains a plethora of characters to keep track of) and coming to the conclusion that no singular persona left a lasting impression, I started to dread the idea of keeping track of 33 miners.
Luckily for The 33, this isn’t so much of an issue. At the very least, this is handled much better than Everest, which had A-list actors like Jake Gyllenhaal wasted, doing nothing. The only real problem is that the script tends to exaggerate the more prominent survivors fairly generically; there’s an alcoholic essentially forced to suffer through withdrawals, a young man expecting his first child with his wife, a spiritual believer for a leader, someone on the verge of retirement, and more other fairly standard characters for the disaster movie genre.
It’s sometimes frustratingly manipulative, but where The 33 goes right, is that even though the sentimentality is laid on pretty thick, it’s easy to care about these people. One of their men had forewarned a higher-up about the potential doom, yet no one listened, so over 30 miners performing grueling work 2000 feet underground in 90+ degree weather ended up trapped, most likely facing death. If you’re wondering, the collapsed piece of rock blocking the only way in and out was apparently twice the size of the Empire State building.
We know that some of these miners are friends, but that doesn’t stop the lesser acquainted pulling together to survive any less emotional. Of course, there were some tough times (most notably in the form of some cannibal jokes, although to my knowledge the possibility of cannibalism became very real to these men at one point) and some brief physical violence that hint at some much darker undertones, but the central theme is hope. Aside from feeling like a history lesson on a recent current event, The 33 sends a strong message about unity when toppled with seemingly insurmountable odds and threat.
Above ground, this message is also explored as the families of the miners refuse to leave the site of the mine. Their resistance and vocal cries for government action is primarily led by one character, but the impact is there, even more so, when the Minister of Mining, various other countries, and the support of citizens all around the world lend whatever they can to help the situation. Whether it be a drill, or the simple yet highly effective gesture of caring, it’s a movie that showcases how tragedy can bring us all together.
With that said, it does feel that much of the time is spent on repeated discussions of drilling, alongside the concerns of varying family members. It’s actually surprising that roughly only 33& (pun intended) actually focuses on the miners. And while this obviously offers a fair balance between screen-time and characterization, you can’t help but feel that even for a two-hour movie, much of the time spent underground flies by. Naturally, the focus on survival is also the most interesting aspect of the story, making this slight gripe with the film hit harder.
It’s a shame because, what is there, outside of caricatures for characters, is riveting. There’s a hallucinatory sequence where The 33 imagine their rations as a large dinner feast they are consuming surrounded by loved ones. Instead of giving Antonio Banderas cringe worthy lines such as “That’s the heart of the mountain, and she finally broke”, heading down the route of visual storytelling could have done wonders for making The 33 feel refreshing and original despite being a retelling of true events.
It’s also worth mentioning that the score by James Horner (his final one now after tragically passing away earlier this year) captures the mood of hope and survival well. Much of it actually sounds like a Chilean take on what he brought to the table for Titanic, and it works. The drama, the rescue, hell, even the drilling wind up more engaging thanks to this original music.
Even though one can’t help but feel The 33 sidesteps much of the more realistic and harrowing occurrences that went on for 69 days, it’s hard to hate a movie that does so in favor of highlighting how togetherness and unity can allow us to overcome any obstacle and situation.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder – An aficionado of film, wrestling, and gaming. Follow me on Twitter or friend me on Facebook