Tweetable Takeaway: The 33 isn’t as good as it could be, but contains just enough powerful emotional moments to make it worth a viewing. Tweet
Much like Kirk Douglas’s character in Ace in the Hole exploited the trapped miner, THE 33 looks to cash in on the real life story of 33 Chilean miners who become trapped in a mine 200 feet underground. The story contains undeniable emotional moments to be sure, though those are mostly due to the inherent nature of the true story itself. The actual movie is never as good as it could be, and has plenty of decisions that feel commercially-driven rather than committed to telling the story of these miners.
The toughest hurdle of any movie based on a true story is its audience already knowing how the events turn out. Films can certainly still succeed with this caveat, but even knowing the ending of The 33 plenty of plot points feel predictable and clichéd. The movie opens with miner Don Lucho (Lou Diamond Phillips) pleading for more safety for his workers, whilst the mining corporation boss waves off his concerns and tells him to increase output. It’s a scene steeped in obvious foreshadowing that we’ve seen too many times before. Sure, such information needed to be conveyed, but there had to be a better way to go about it. Then we get the flashes of lives of a few of the miners before they go to work. One has a pregnant wife. Another is about to retire. The most interesting of the bunch is an alcoholic Darío Segovia (Juan Pablo Raba) who refuses to talk to his sister. Of the bunch, Segovia is the only one with a story that unfolds with some suspense over the course of the movie. Why doesn’t he talk to his sister, despite her repeated attempts to help and talk to him?
Once our cast is assembled, they hop on a truck and head down into the mine. The depth of the mine is summed up nicely in a character’s line explaining how long it will take to get to the bottom: one hour. It puts into perspective just how far down these men will be once they’re trapped, and offers a measurement the audience can easily relate to. It’s not long before the earth begins to rumble, and all the miners begin to make a mad dash for the refuge at the very bottom of the mine. It’s a scene strangely devoid of much tension. Part of that is due to most of the action taking place in a dark and dusty arena, the other part due to some really obvious (and bad) CGI work. Once the men realize the predicament they’re in, the little bit of food they have, the very likely chance the mining company won’t bother trying to rescue them, the meaty drama can begin. Antonio Banderas as Mario Sepúlveda steps in to rally the men, keep their hopes up, and ration the food. He becomes their leader, something they sorely need, and without which they surely would have perished.
The 33 feels simultaneously too long and too short. It’s inevitable that a film about men trapped in a mine would feel longer than it actually is, but The 33 never feels long in a way that makes sense to the story. Instead, the large number of characters and the protracted process of removing the men causes the interminable feeling. At the same time, paradoxically, we only get a sampling of the men’s plight in the depths below. The time we spend with the men in their tiny space is always too short, and the audience can always count on coming back up to the surface to watch other characters, a luxury not afforded to the men below. Because of this, we never feel the full impact of just how brutal the conditions really were for the trapped miners. It’s a tough problem, because the story that happens aboveground is just as interesting: the mining corporation initially refuses to attempt to dig for the men, the wives and family of the men are kept in the dark, the engineering problems of drilling through incredibly tough stone to first find, and then free the men. It’s all equally fascinating, but in a movie that’s only 2 hours long, the events must be sped through in order to fit it all in.
Overshadowing all these events are the decisions in the film that don’t feel true to the story and culture of these men. First is the movie being entirely spoken in English. There’s enough evidence that movies can be successful in their native language even with subtitles. Even more confusing is the inclusion of non-Hispanic actors, among them French actress Juliette Binoche as Segovia’s sister Maria, Gabriel Byrne as Chilean engineer Andre Sougarret, and Bob Gunton as the president of Chile. Although each actor does a serviceable job, one can’t help but be distracted every time one is onscreen.
And yet, despite all this, there are a few nuggets of inspiration that make the journey worth it. Seeing the world come together to rescue the men, the dogged pursuit of a few individuals to launch a rescue mission in the first place, and the impossible odds that are overcome all provide great moments of emotional power. The 33 is never as good as it could be, but its few great moments make up for it.
I give The 33 3 gigantic rocks out of 5
Score: 3 out of 5
Wil Loper | Contributor