In 2010, people around the globe were drawn to what was happening on the news. After word got out that 33 Chilean miners were trapped 2,000 feet below ground with very limited food and resources, everyone banded together to either help (this work was left to the government and international engineers) or to see what would happen. For 69 days, the miners remained trapped while the mine structure deteriorated further each day. In what many may call a miracle, they all survived and now their experience below the mine has been translated to film in The 33, which stars Antonio Banderas, Rodrigo Santora, Juliette Binoche, Lou Diamond Phillips and James Brolin in lead roles.
It’s sad to note that this movie has been in the making for five years. Sad because it was being optioned while the miners were still underground. Regardless, the movie has now been made (in English, instead of in the miners’ native Spanish) and it boasts an international cast–it should be noted that none of them are actually Chilean. The 33 wastes no time in getting things going, spending some brief time introducing the lead characters and their families before sending them into the mine. While the events and outcome of the mine collapse are well-known to everyone by now, director Patricia Riggen (Under the Same Moon, Girl in Progress) is still able to keep a sense of suspense. There’s also some tension between the miners, as being locked away from civilization with 33 men stuck in one place is no walk in the park.
Antonio Banderas is obviously the head of the pack, the unofficial leader, portraying Mario Sepúlveda. Banderas is passionate in his communication, always providing positive reinforcements when everyone is losing hope. Lou Diamond Phillips plays Don Lucho, a man who is just as much a friend to Mario as he is the one who is willing to stand up to him and speak his mind. In a way, the film teases a relationship between Rodrigo Santoro and Juliette Binoche’s characters, but never makes the jump. Whether this is because the filmmakers wanted to stay true to real-life or if they just didn’t want to go there is unclear.
The film tries to find a balancing act between what’s happening both above and underground. There are a lot of emotionally charged moments, but the film doesn’t always crescendo its way through them. The 33 has a real-life happy ending, but doesn’t always strike the right emotional balance. It’s commendable that it is able to have you rooting for the 33 miners even when you know the ultimate outcome of the story. On a scale of one to ten, the film is average, heartwarming, hopeful, but struggles with being a memorable onscreen take of a great survival story that had the world holding its breath.