Director: Patricia Riggen
Stars: Antonio Banderas, Rodrigo Santoro, Juliette Binoche
Duration: 127 mins
KRS Film Releasing Ltd
Many will recall the events, six years ago, when 33 Chilean miners were trapped very deep underground after the collapse of the San Jose mine where they worked. It was an incident that captured the world’s imagination as TV cameras beamed the images from the Chilean desert into households all over the planet, with millions of viewers worldwide holding their breath as a team of international experts made attempt after attempt to rescue the miners.
It was a global human interest story filled with emotion and drama; a story ripe for filmic adaptation and, unsurprisingly, here it is. The 33 is directed by Patricia Ruggan with a screenplay by Mikko Alanne, Craig Borten and Michael Thomas based on Hector Tobar’s book, Deep Down Dark, the authorised account of the event; while the film has been made with the blessing of the miners and all involved in their rescue. And while the end result is, undoubtedly, a heart-warming account of the triumph of the spirit, the film lacks the drama that so enveloped the events as they unfolded in real time on TV.
The script effectively condenses the events of 69 days in a two-hour film by counting down the days with caption cards, while real news footage puts the viewer in the moment. Exposition is also quite solid, as we are first introduced to the miners having some music and food-filled celebration of the upcoming retirement of a member of their mining community.
We then follow them down the mine on what, at first, appeared to be a normal day at work. Things look promising with the very effective depiction of the disaster caused by inward collapse of the mountain and the ensuing chaos. That the movie was shot in Chile’s Atacama Desert, not far from the actual mine itself while the interiors were shot in working mines in Columbia, certainly augments the authenticity.
Takes a very safe journey towards its obviously predictable outcome
And yet, with most audiences knowing the outcome of the disaster, the filmmakers faced the challenge of re-creating its dramatic tension. But, by focusing almost too much on what is happening above ground for long periods of time, if feels as if it is simply recreating TV images that are familiar to us. It takes a very safe journey towards its obviously predictable outcome, ticking all the boxes on its way. There are the engineers scratching their heads as they execute plan after plan, until someone has a (rather implausible) moment of inspiration; and there’s the grief and anxiety of the crowds of relatives and friends that gathered at the scene, as the story makes the headlines worldwide. All this is certainly important to the story, however what the film cries out for is more time with the men underground and a deeper examination of their deteriorating physical and mental state in order to fully engage the audience. Yet, the film completely misses the opportunity.
Granted, it would have been impossible to create in-depth portrayals of all 33 men. So what the script opts for instead are basic characteristics – the man who takes charge; the company man plagued by guilt; the veteran about to retire; the young father-to-be; the womaniser; the alcoholic and so forth. These are clear composites of the real men, yet none of them are richly-drawn enough to truly register. The alternating moments of tension, anger and despair they experience do not often ring true.
It feels so formulaic, that a hallucinatory scene around half-way through the film when the men, on the brink of starvation, began to imagine they are being fed rich and mouth-watering by their loved ones, comes across as strange. The film could have done with a few more daring moments like this, to lift it out of its ordinariness but, as a standalone scene, it just feels misplaced.
The film brings together quite an eclectic international cast (Spanish, French, Irish, Brazilian, American etc.) with an odd mix of accents, but they are all committed enough to overcome this, and it is the performances themselves that add the much needed heart to the movie.
Antonio Banderas is especially good as Mario Sepulveda, who becomes the leader of the trapped miners, swallowing his inner panic in order to rally his troops and organise their rations and inspire them with hope in those moments where there was none. Lou Diamond Philips as the shift supervisor who was aware of safety shortcomings is equally solid. Above ground, Gabriel Byrne is the engineer examining the logistics while Juliette Binoche is Maria, the free-spirited sister of one of the miners, whose vocal protests were instrumental in getting the authorities to initiate the rescue.
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