Movie Review: The 33

the_33The story of the Chilean miners who were trapped over 200 stories underground, and their subsequent rescue after a whopping 69 days, is one of humanity’s finest. It is a story of hope, courage, faith, and determination, and it had ‘major motion picture’ written all over it. Unfortunately, the word ‘major’ proves to be the biggest problem with the eventual motion picture. “The 33” had an intimate, claustrophobic film within its grasp, but chose to paint by numbers instead. They even recorded all of the dialogue in English. Ninety-nine percent of the characters are Chilean; this movie has no business being in English.

On August 5, 2010, a group of men working for the San Jose Mining Company went to work in a mine in the Atacama Desert, despite concerns from staffers – and clear signs from the mine itself – that the mine was becoming unstable. While the men were in the mine, the rock shifted above them, cutting off their access to the surface. The men retreated to a shelter 2,300 feet below ground, where there was to be a radio, rations, medical supplies, and a way out. The initial plan was to climb the escape ladders in the shelter, only to discover that their employers never finished building them. To add insult to injury, the radio was disconnected, and there were no medical supplies.

Faced with limited rations, Mario Sepulveda (Antonio Banderas) takes the lead to make sure everyone gets a fair share, even though that means one very small amount of food per day. On the surface, Laurence Golborne (Rodrigo Santoro), head of the Ministry of Mining, convinces Chilean President Pinera (Bob Gunton, of all people) that it is their moral imperative to rescue those miners, and Golborne brings drills to dig for the miners, and shelter for the miners’ loved ones, whose homes are almost 30 miles away but refused to leave the site out of fear that San Jose will abandon the miners if no one’s watching them and keeping them honest. Before long, the United States, Australia, and Canada are all lending a hand in the effort to rescue “Los 33.”

We’ll bet dollars to donuts that “127 Hours” was name-checked in the pitch meeting, and with good reason. Both events are dreadful predicaments – pick one: getting trapped a half mile underground, or getting pinned between two rocks above ground, but in the middle of nowhere, and no one knows where you are – and the studio must have also seen the potential for international appeal, given the South American locale. So why, again, make the movie in English? Cutting the dialogue in Spanish would have raised the ‘real’ factor tenfold, and the ‘real’ factor is something “The 33” is sorely lacking. There’s a Movie of the Week vibe to it all that the film cannot shake. The drinker going through detox, the paranoia, and the straight-up racism are all things that could have happened (full disclosure: I have not read Hector Tobar’s “Deep Down Dark,” upon which this film is based), but they’re also the kinds of things that happen in every Movie of the Week.

The film receives a most welcome boost when contact is finally made between the miners and the drillers trying to rescue them, and that positivity smooths over some otherwise equally Movie of the Week-like moments. The miners get much-needed food and supplies (hopefully deodorant was one of them), and their families get hope. It’s an intoxicating thing, hope. It can smooth over the most predictable things.

The main disadvantage of “The 33” compared to “127 Hours” is the number of people involved. With one person, a film has the opportunity to dig deeper and explore random encounters in greater detail. With 33 people, there is a pressure to bring as many of them to life as possible, but in doing so, they’re brought to life in the most cliché manner imaginable. None of Los 33, not even Banderas’ character, has much of a personality. They’re mostly defined by the women waiting for them at the surface. That’s a pity on multiple levels.

2.5 out of 5 stars (2.5 / 5)

This originally ran November 12, 2015 on

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