The 33

The 33

2015, PG-13, 120 min. Directed by Patricia Riggen. Starring Antonio Banderas, Rodrigo Santoro, Juliette Binoche, Lou Diamond Phillips, Gabriel Byrne, James Brolin, Mario Casas, Jacob Vargas, Juan Pablo Raba, Oscar Nuñez, Tenoch Huerta, Adriana Barraza, Kate del Castillo, Bob Gunton.

REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Nov. 13, 2015

Converting a recent, true event that gripped the world’s attention into popcorn entertainment is almost tantamount to admitting defeat from the get-go. Gone is the suspense regarding the event’s outcome, as well as the inherent fascination in watching the situation unfold. For a moment, the world held its breath in unison while, daily, it tuned in to await the outcome. Nothing like that harmony is likely to be reproduced on film. Still, this account of the 33 Chilean miners trapped a half-mile below ground for 69 days after the 2010 collapse of the San José Mine in the Atacama Desert (based on the book Deep Down Dark by Hector Tobar), might be more engaging were it not for the melodrama heavily larded into the screenplay (cobbled together by numerous writers).

In the opening sequences, every character is identified by a trait or two, which is all we ever get to know about them throughout the disaster. It doesn’t help that the filmmakers assented to industry demands to film in English. This further distances the characters from their Chilean roots and authenticity. Mario Sepúlveda (Banderas), a natural leader, becomes the de facto authority figure for the men once they are trapped, taking over from Don Lucho (Phillips), who had waged a losing battle with the mine owners to warn them of impending disaster. Among the miners, there’s also the father-to-be, the addict, the man whose wife and mistress squabble over him in the film’s ongoing bit of comic relief, a Bolivian newcomer, an Elvis impersonator, the old guy who’s scheduled for retirement in two weeks, and so on. Above ground, the families gather outside the mine’s gates in a makeshift Camp Hope, fitted with a commissary and school ordered by Chile’s minister of mining (Santoro), who’s anxious to prove his efficacy. Curiously cast as Chileans are Gabriel Byrne as the chief engineer and Juliette Binoche as the estranged but steadfast sister of the addict, who makes the best empanadas in town.

The low-light camerawork by Checco Varese is quite remarkable and the scenes of the mine crumbling are riveting – and the only time the film feels truly original. Kudos to director Patricia Riggen (Under the Same Moon, Girl in Progress) for marshaling this big ensemble; she’s a filmmaker with great heart and it’s a shame that more of her empathy doesn’t come through. The atypically heavy-handed score by James Horner, to whom the film is dedicated, does not offer the composer a fitting epitaph. The 33 opens with the notice that every year 12,000 miners die in accidents around the world, and closes with reminders that the San José mine owners were deemed not guilty of negligence and that the 33 have never been compensated for their trauma. Next time someone tries to tell this saga on film, I suggest they frame it as a crime story.

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More Patricia Riggen Films
Miracles From Heaven
This Christian-centric film wears its faith on its sleeve

Steve Davis, March 18, 2016

Girl in Progress
The roles of mother and daughter get mixed up in this old story told in a smart way.

Marc Savlov, May 11, 2012

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The 33, Patricia Riggen, Antonio Banderas, Rodrigo Santoro, Juliette Binoche, Lou Diamond Phillips, Gabriel Byrne, James Brolin, Mario Casas, Jacob Vargas, Juan Pablo Raba, Oscar Nuñez, Tenoch Huerta, Adriana Barraza, Kate del Castillo, Bob Gunton

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