THE 33 (USA/Chile/12A/127mins)
Directed by Patricia Riggen. Starring Antonio Banderas, Juliette Binoche, Gabriel Byrne, Rodrigo Santoro, James Brolin, Lou Diamond Phillips, Mario Casas, Jacob Vargas, Oscar Nunez.
THE PLOT: Copiapó, Chile, 2010, and after a farewell party for their eldest co-worker, a busload of miners head off for another hard day’s work deep underground. The mine has been tricky, but the San Esteban Primera Mining Company aren’t paying such warnings much mind. When the mine does collapse, the 33 miners inside manage to make it to a shelter, where there are three days’ rations. As families arrive, it becomes obvious that the chances of an early rescue are slim, and it’s only after 17 days that a line to the miners is drilled, through which supplies can be fed. Realising that their bosses are unlikely to pay compensation, and with the world’s media now watching, the miners start to argue over how best to capitalise on their newfound international fame…
THE VERDICT: Based on the 2010 Chilean mining disaster that saw 33 men become an international story as they remained trapped for 69 days 700m underground, in a collapsed, century-old mine. It’s a story rich with potential, with everything from tragedy to comedy (wives and girlfriends of the same men meeting for the first time), and in the right hands, with the right cast, this could be at least ‘Das Boot’ all over again. Instead, we get a motley crew of box-office refugees in front of the camera, and a Mexican teen comedy director behind the camera. And what does that give you? A TV Movie of the Day, that’s what.
Not that Antonio doesn’t sweat for his art here, calling on some of that early Almodovar-era S&M fire (before those delicious, lucrative M&M’s got a hold), whilst Binoche is the token European arthouse heavyweight, there to add gravitas and some critical heat proceedings. Our own Gabriel Byrne does his Gabriel Byrne thing, and as for Lou Diamond Phillips… Well, you know where you are with a movie when Lou Diamond Phillips name is on the poster.
It doesn’t help that the real-life disaster was played out on real-time in the news, thanks to modern technology. Why a Hollywood makeover was deemed necessary when all the raw footage for a great documentary are there only makes ‘The 33’ irritate that little bit more. Maybe they should have turned it into a musical?
RATING: 2/5
Review by Paul Byrne

The 33
Review by Paul Byrne
2.0Rich with potential
  • filmbuff2011

    Known more simply as ‘the Chilean miners story’, The 33 is the inevitable Hollywood version of this courageous story of survival based on the 2010 Copiapo incident, in which 32 Chilean miners and 1 Bolivian were trapped 2,300 feet underground for some 69 days.

    As they went to work, August 5, 2010 was just another day for the Copiapo miners. Safety manager Don Lucho (Lou Diamond Phillips) has concerns though. The mountain that they’re mining is shifting at an uneasy and uncertain pace, putting the lives of his men at risk. He still has a quota to reach, which has now increased. Don Lucho heads into the mountain with Mario (Antonio Banderas) and the other miners. While working, the mountain shifts and closes off the one and only exit. The way is now blocked by a rock, the heart of the mountain, that is twice the mass of the Empire State Building. Realising how desperate their situation is, Don Lucho gives up hope of rescue, but Mario argues that they have a chance to survive. He chooses to survive and won’t give up hope no matter what. He inspires the other men, who trust him to ration the meagre provisions that they have in the refuge, a small space where they’re mostly safe – for now. Above ground, Mining Minister Golburne (Rodrigo Santoro) faces ever-growing pressure from the families of the miners, including firebrand Maria (Juliette Binoche) to rescue the miners. There has to be a way to drill down and reach them, to communicate with them and hopefully rescue them. They call in drilling expert Andre (Gabriel Byrne) to help. But time, and food, is running out…

    There’s no doubting the aspirations and good intentions of Mexican director Patricia Riggen and the rest of her crew with The 33. This is a story that deserves to be told – but is this the film version that the story deserves? Sort-of. It’s based on the book Deep Dark Down by Hector Tobar, which was collectively written with the co-operation of the miners to tell one definitive account rather than 33, possibly conflicting stories. If there’s one voice that stands out in the film, it’s that of Mario. Well-portrayed by an engaging Banderas, he’s the one character who unites these men in difficult and increasingly desperate circumstances. The story below-ground is the one that really matters here and it roots you to your seat throughout. However, a brief stray into a fantasy sequence involving food is trying to be emotional but just comes as clumsy in a story that favours realism.

    The story above ground is less successful, partly due to some less-than-choice casting. The intention was obviously to cast as many Hispanic actors as possible, but that wasn’t the case. Instead we get Bob Gunton, best known as playing the sadistic prison warden in The Shawshank Redemption, as El Presidente. Binoche replaces Jennifer Lopez with mixed results – you half expect her to break into French at one stage. And Byrne’s wobbly Chilean accent strays into an Irish brogue at some points. Flaws, to be sure, but The 33 actually does a decent job of telling the story as it is and keeping it gripping and entertaining even if we already know the outcome. The actual miners should be happy with this film, but it may not be ambitious enough give them the boost that they so rightly deserve. ***