In October of 2010 the world watched collectively as 33 Chilean miners ascended to the Atacama Desert surface following 69 harrowing days spent trapped 700 meters underground. Miraculously not a single casualty was reported, igniting tales of hope and life despite cadaverous conditions—coincidentally laying the groundwork for The 33, a cinematic retelling of the events in good taste thanks to Director Patricia Riggen and penmen Mikko Alanne, Craig Borten, and Michael Thomas.
It goes without saying, stuffing 33 individual stories into 128 minutes isn’t a feasible task, which is why the trio of scribes honed in on the leadership of “Super” Mario Sepulveda (Antonio Banderas), the future father Alex Vega (Mario Casas), and Dario Segovia (Huan Pablo Raba), the estranged brother of Maria (Juliette Binoche)—the miners’ most vocal supporter. Speaking of which, Mining Minster Laurence Golborne (Rodrigo Santoro) leads the rescue operation from 2,300 ft above the 33, combating both the restless crowd of friends, families, and supporters in addition to piling doubts from the Shift Forman Don Lucho (Lou Diamond Phillips), Drilling Engineer Andre Sougarret (Gabriel Byrne) and Chilean President himself Sebastian Pinera (Bob Gunton).
Though the plot is simplistic, it rarely lingers despite the mine’s seemingly premature collapse just half way through the first act. Thankfully, any fears of elongation were eventually diminished following the cave in – a cautiously lit sequence, taking the initiative of using the miners’ headlamps almost exclusively in terms of lighting. Conflicts such as a detached drill bit or a mutiny amongst the miners are introduced before being solved in a timely fashion. On one hand it could be argued their relatively hasty resolve is a means to stretch the runtime, but these small struggles contribute to a sense of constant development – even if they lack any gravity to the overall narrative. Furthermore, the film exudes with personality and character; be it Edison Pena (Jacob Vargas), an Elvis impersonator or Yonni Barrios’ (Oscar Nunez) mistress or a humorous hallucinogenic last supper—there’s a palatable aura of humanity and fellowship amongst the 33.
So too is there on the surface, which, thankfully, doesn’t distract but instead adds to our investment into the situation. Maria (Binoche) and Laurence (Santoro), despite contrived and eventually forgotten relationship tension, are reliable links to the events unfolding above, providing citizen and governmental points of view. The emotional epicenter in ‘Camp Hope,’ plotted at the doorstep of the desert mining site, aids the undertone of life finding a way—Binoche exhibiting anger, despair, and faith so raw it almost justified her underused performance. That said, Maria’s efforts in establishing the camp was a recognizable effort in making her more than a worrisome female, but we’re unfortunately detached from the inner-dynamics of the settlement. Mothers consoling their children, or wives, girlfriends, daughters keeping an optimistic atmosphere would have added a welcome feminist perspective amidst the masculine environment underground.
What The 33 lacks in femininity it more than makes up for in authenticity. The almost fully South American cast and creative crew recognize and respect Hollywood’s decision to let them tell such a culturally empowering story. Yet, there are several instances where an awkwardly delivered English line should have been spoken in the actor’s native tongue. California-native James Horner, though, who sadly passed away months before the film’s release, composed a beautiful main theme of woodwinds, painting a enduring soundscape that reflected both the Chilean culture and a exuberant sense of hope. But perhaps the most effective aspect of the film’s genuineness took place when the world was watching. The script could have easily have quickly wrapped up and called it a day once the miners were reached, yet the conflict evolved into intriguing debates amongst the miners regarding their newfound popularity once the sense of danger is removed. News broadcasts and international cooperation supplied an adequate sense of scale to this miraculous feat of humanity’s will to survive the world lay witness to.
FINAL CUT: An authentic and effective cast and crew with a consistently evolving plot distracted from a conflict that would otherwise feel elongated over a 2 hour runtime, despite the neglection of Camp Hope reminding us this on occasion.
The 33 receives a 3.5/5