Patricia Riggen’s The 33 tells the story of the 33 Chilean miners who were trapped underground for 69 days back in 2010 and chronicles the collaborative effort to free them.
Films like this are always iffy for me since movies are broadly made to turn a profit it seems a bit manipulative to capitalise on a recent disaster that people will still have feelings about. One such glaring pointless example of this is the 2006 Oliver Stone film World Trade Center. That film was about two Port Authority police officers trapped under the rubble of the World Trade Center. Other than tugging on specific heart strings there was no need for that story to be linked to 9/11. It could have been any building at any time.
This story is slightly different as it does have a happy ending for everyone involved so at least there’s no potential to be insensitive about people who died in a tragic event. Ultimately this event will likely be remembered by history as an inspirational one about the indomitable human spirit and how people can come together in times of crisis.
The 33 certainly wants to proceed along those lines with hope being the main theme of this whole thing. Tonally it remains optimistic throughout with all focus being on survival and having the miners reunite with their loved ones. Parts of it stray slightly into dark territory but uplifting and optimistic is certainly the order of the day and the story is all the better for it.
Right away this is a really hard task as there are 33 miners to deal with so there’s no way that a 2 hour film can possibly fit all of these characters in to any meaningful degree. The problem is almost sidestepped altogether by making the film an ensemble piece with very little emphasis on individuals. Antonio Banderas’ Mario leads the group as being the most well known among the cast and gets a little bit more character development than the others but generally it’s a shared experience. There is talk of what people are missing on the surface and we see conversations happening between specific miners and their loved ones but there are so many people it’s almost impossible to keep track of who the individuals really are.
As the leader of the group of miners Antonio Banderas is really good. His performance remains enthusiastic and there’s clearly a lot of integrity to him that isn’t fully explored by the film itself. It’s the classic case of a performance elevating the material as he doesn’t have a lot to work with much of the time. Despite that his performance remains memorable and Mario remains the central figure among the miners throughout with all of the other characters circling around him.
With an absence of major character development for anyone else the group dynamic becomes very important and the film excels at portraying that. Enough time is spent establishing the team before the accident to make them feel as if they have worked together for a long time and know each other. Ultimately the shared determination is what helps keep them alive and there are some great moments where everyone works hard to keep their spirits up in this hopeless situation.
There are some notable missteps such as a lack of any real claustrophobic feeling. Even though they are trapped underground with seemingly no hope of escape it doesn’t really feel like they are in an enclosed space that is unbearably hot. It might have something to do with the fact that the space is actually a really large one or perhaps it is the surface story running in parallel reminding us that there is a way out. Either way the whole isolation aspect doesn’t fully come across.
I do appreciate that the film never really goes as morbid as it could. There are some jokes about cannibalism that thankfully never go anywhere and there’s a constant undercurrent of optimism. Even the point that their rations run out is done in a hopeful way with a shared hallucination sequence where everyone has a glorious feast with their loved ones around them to share it. It’s a great scene and really promotes the optimistic, hopeful tone that the film is trying to establish.
There’s a secondary narrative going on that chronicles the efforts of those on the surface trying to find a way to free them. In many ways the characters presented here fare better than the miners are there is a tighter focus on less of them. The leader here is the Chilean Minister of Mining Laurence Golborne (Rodrigo Santoro) who never gives up on saving those trapped and really empathises with their loved ones to the point that he breaks protocol and lets them be around the rescue efforts. Backing him up here is Maria (Juliette Binoche) and a handful of others who help sell the spirit of hope and remind viewers that rescue is an inevitability rather than a remote possibility.
A big problem with these scenes is that they often seem a bit too factual. News footage is used to update viewers on how things are progressing which works as narrative shorthand but it creates a distance from the story that is never really compensated for. It’s all very interesting to watch but it rarely gives more than a documentary on the subject would
The eventual rescue manages to give the film the hopeful conclusion that it deserves and seeing the miners reunite with their loved ones hits the right emotional notes but the ending section is very rushed. I suppose there’s no other way it could be done considering how many people are involved but it all happens so rapidly that it doesn’t quite have the impact it needs. It’s definitely a film that has potential but needed some tightening up to really do the story justice.
An entertaining yet uneven experience that keeps a hopeful and optimistic tone throughout when telling a story that many viewers will be familiar with.
The 33 has hope as the main theme. Tonally it remains optimistic throughout with all focus being on survival and having the miners reunite with their loved ones. Parts of it stray slightly into dark territory but this is rare. Being uplifting and optimistic is the main purpose.
Dealing with 33 miners is a really hard undertaking as there is no way a 2 hour film can hope to fit all of those people in to any meaningful degree. The problem is largely sidestepped by making the film an ensemble piece with Antonio Banderas’ Mario getting the most focus.
Antonio Banderas is really good. His performance remains enthusiastic and there’s clearly a lot of integrity to him that isn’t fully explored. It’s definitely a case of the performance elevating the material.
The group dynamic becomes very important and the film excels at portraying that. Enough time is spent establishing the team before the accident to create the impression that they have worked together for a long time and know each other. Ultimately the shared determination is what keeps them alive and this comes across really well.
There are some notable missteps such as a lack of any claustrophobic feeling. Even though they are trapped underground with no hope of escape it doesn’t really feel like they are in an enclosed space that is unbearably hot. It might have something to do with the fact that the space is a large one or perhaps the surface story running in parallel reminds us that there is a way out.
I do like that the film never gets as morbid as it could. Even the point the rations run out is done in a hopeful way with an excellent shared hallucination sequence.
The secondary narrative chronicling the efforts of those on the surface is pretty good. In many ways the characters fare better as there are less to focus on. Rodrigo Santoro does a good job of portraying a sympathetic government figure who never gives up hope.
A big problem with these scenes is that they feel a little too factual. News footage is used to update viewers but it creates distance from the narrative that is never compensated for. It’s all interesting but doesn’t offer more than a documentary would.
The eventual rescue gives the film the hopeful conclusion that it deserves and hits the right emotional notes but it seems rushed. Given the number of people involved there is no other way it could be but it happens so quickly that it lacks the necessary impact. It definitely had potential as a film but needed some tightening up to do the story justice.