Director: Patricia Riggen
Cast: Antonio Banderas, Rodrigo Santoro, Juliette Binoche, Lou Diamond Phillips, Gabriel Byrne, Mario Casas, Jacob Vargas, Juan Pablo Raba, Oscar Nuñez, Tenoch Huerta, Marco Treviño, Bob Gunton, Adriana Barraza, Kate del Castillo, Cote de Pablo, James Brolin
MPAA Rating: (for a disaster sequence and some language)
Running Time: 2:07
Release Date: 11/13/15
Review by Mark Dujsik | November 12, 2015
We all know the story of the 33 miners who were trapped underground in a mine in the Atacama Desert in Chile for over two months in 2010. It became international news—how the men survived, some information about their personal lives, the plans to extract them, and the entire process of the final rescue broadcast on news networks. The 33 tells us nothing new. It simply follows the story we know in the same victorious tone that the news media took (Director Patricia Riggen includes clips of some of that coverage, which is unnecessary in context). In the process, the movie glosses over the exact same things that the media did.
On its face, the story of these miners is one of those stories about the Triumph of the Human Spirit that Hollywood loves. Things go wrong. People endure against all odds. Everything works out fine, even though such a result seems impossible. The audience feels inspired.
Why, then, does The 33 feel so hollow? Well, there's the logistical problem of a movie that wants to explore this story from three angles, each one with its own difficulties.
There are the miners, of course, and in that arena, the screenplay by Mikko Alanne, Craig Borten, and Michael Thomas (based on the book Deep Down Dark by Héctor Tobar) must give us a sense of 33 people as individuals and as a group, the physical and emotional strain of spending two months in entrapment with little food (at first), and the battle between hope for rescue and despair at reality. There are the miners' families, who must fight a private company that doesn't want to expend the resources on a rescue and a government that has failed in similar situations. There is the rescue effort, which involves the complex geological makeup of the desert and the 700,000-ton rock that is blocking a drill's access to the miners' location.
Each of these is its own story, and the movie doesn't balance the three of them well. We only get to know a handful of the miners, and then it's less as people a more as vague personalities (a leader, a drunk, a guilt-ridden middle manager, etc.). The same goes for the families, whom we only get to know by the complications. There's a pregnant wife, an estranged sister, and a feud between a wife and a mistress.
The rescue efforts are as simplified as possible. The movie offers a character explaining a 3-D computer model of the situation—a box filled with 33 stick figures and a giant rectangle representing the obstacle. At one point, the chief engineer explains that the rock is equal to the mass of two Empire State Buildings, and that's followed by a computer graphic of the giant rectangle placed next to two images of the Empire State Building, which is about as redundant as it sounds.
The central characters are the de facto leader of the miners Mario Sepúlveda (Antonio Banderas), the estranged sister María Segovia (the French Juliette Binoche, in the first of three awkward casting choices), and Chile's Minister of Mining Laurence Golborne (Rodrigo Santoro). Mario tries to find a way out of the mine, rations the food, and keeps hope alive for fellow miners (The major ones are played by Lou Diamond Phillips, Mario Casas, Jacob Vargas, Juan Pablo Raba, and Oscar Nuñez). María keeps the pressure on the government to facilitate a rescue. Laurence works with chief engineer Andre Sougarret (the Irish Gabriel Byrne, the second of those questionable casting choices) and assures success to President Piñera (the American Bob Gunton, whose spray tan battles with Binoche's for which is the more the offensive).
The most frustrating part of the movie is how close it comes to assigning blame where it's due, before completely ignoring it. Before the miners enter and shortly after the collapse (an effective sequence), the movie establishes this place as a deathtrap. The manager (Mario Zaragoza) ignores warnings that the mountain is shifting. The ladders that could lead the miners to safety through chimneys are incomplete. The refuge is missing vital first-aid equipment and has only enough food for three days, leading the miners to ration it out in miniscule portions.
Early on, there's a lot of talk about the obvious negligence of the mining company, but that talk disappears to give us this story of men and their families overcoming a hell that, honestly, they never should have had to go through in the first place. Adding insult to injury, the movie's coda explains that the courts found in favor of the company and that the miners received no compensation. This information plays over cheerful guitar music and images of the real miners together on a beach. If that's not glossing over the important stuff, then it stands to reason that nothing is.
What we have here is a movie that only seeks to inspire and only wants to do so in generic ways. The 33 offers a story we already know and misses a lot of opportunities in the telling.
Copyright © 2015 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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