Making a film about a real disaster event that showcases mental stamina, stability, courage and determination when effectively you are stationary in one spot is tricky. How do you keep a film moving when the cast simply cannot? This is something The 33 manages to do by showing the struggle to free 33 trapped miners from multiple angles, thus making a compelling if mildly lopsided movie.
The disasters faced
A whole lot of mine collapse, a lack of food, sunlight and cultural brotherhood. Outside the mine, we have impending babies, political intrigue and media pressures building up around the melting pot.
Following the book of survivor Hector Tabor ‘Deep Down Dark’, we chart the rescue of the 33 miners who were trapped under a mountain of collapsed rubble back in 2010. Usually, the movie implies, that if miners are trapped and unable to located quickly, the mine firms just chalk up the losses and move on. This story would be different.
Outside the mine, Maria, a sister of one of the miners refuses to back down and wages war on the mining company and all operations that usually come in to close down the rescue and move on. This reaches the face of Laurence, the Chilean Minister for Mining. He has enough clout to be able to make a difference and kick start a huge rescue effort that is not just for show.
Inside the mine, Mario is left in charge of rationing food and keeping up morale. As the days turn to weeks, the men begin to push into mental turmoil. Whilst we know how the film will end, The 33 makes sure you get to see the inner mind conflict inside the men as they begin to doubt anyone is coming for them. Outside the families watch on and rescue efforts hit snag after snag. Just how will it all come together?
Why is it worth watching?
This is a well acted, well shot and well edited movie. It also has a lot on its plate as it is trying to tell a story of 69 days of drama into 2 hours. Inevitably many of the 33 are simply background men and we focus in on about 6 or 7 main characters. Each character has his own inner demon to face. One focuses on his worries as a newly forced leader, another has drug addiction, another is worried for his unborn child and another adopts the role of faith provider. Quite how much of this played out in real life I’m not sure but as the miners play out their demons inside, their family counterparts weigh-in outside.
During the 69 day rescue, a temporary village for the families is set up next to the site. Here we see the daughter of the leader, the sister of the drug addict, the heavily pregnant wife and so on flesh out the world of these men. Best of all, The 33 is not above some slapstick comedy. One of the older men has been two-timing his wife with a mistress and the pair are seen letting off their South American spirit in feisty slanging matches. The tension breaks are needed to let the film breath a little and these ladies, whilst only in a few scenes, are very welcome additions.
One of the interesting side stories involves a Bolivian miner who is bullied and threatened throughout. Whilst most of the men seem to pull together, often it is at the expense of ‘the Bolivian’. I found it a fascinating take on how sometimes bonding together for survival means that someone may end up playing the outsider and be the scapegoat for everything. This story has a good pay off – as do all the sub-stories mentioned here. One of the eldest miners who looked after safety, Luis, also has an interesting arc as he feels completely to blame for the scenario but he is also stuck down there with them all.
Whilst the script doesn’t always leave the actors with a ton of legroom to play with, the acting is great throughout. Antonio Banderas leads the film with a stern fragility. Juliette Binoche runs a gambit of emotions leading the families. Rodrigo Santoro works really well as a government official thrown into the wild. Other performances that stood out for me came from Lou Diamond Philips (Luis), Marco Trevino (Jose) and Gabriel Bryne (Andre).
Lastly, I really appreciated that the film spent time on the rescue as a third act all on its own. When contact is made and the world knows the miners are alive, they are able to send down provisions and keep morale up with limited video calls. These videos calls are heartbreaking and heartwarming at the same time – simply because against this, we have the Chilean Government and US drill team working in tandem with others seemingly not sure if they can actually get them out. It is an emotional rollercoaster.
The collapse itself is big on budget and big on explosions. The rock effects are really well done and the immediate aftermath is really palpable to see. The drilling equipment and temporary village look great too. The fact that the mine sections are in very dark conditions does mean that some of the detail of the effects are lost in murky colours.
Here is where possibly my own negative with The 33 kicks in. The film, whilst dealing with lots of variants of mental strain, doesn’t really pull the characters beyond their initial motive arc. This is probably due to scope and time but very little changes for anyone beyond ‘I can’t take it anymore – I hate X’. Then after they have a meltdown, they then state ‘I can’t wait till I’m out so I can do Y.’ That in itself is an important step but everyone does the same step change. Does it make you immune to their plight? Absolutely not. It does make characters start to blur into each other though.
That’s not a rock, that’s the heart of the mountain. She finally broke.
Three memorable moments
- The collapse itself is visceral and very Hollywood at the same time
- The closing credits which show the 33 real survivors. It lists them one by one and finally gives a name and face to all the men involved. It is a nice homage from a film that couldn’t possibly honour all of them in the runtime effectively.
- The video calls between brother and sister Dario and Maria
The obligatory weird moment
During one of the mental vision sequences we get to experience the hungry miners enjoy a Last Supper feast. It is the only time in the movie where you see all the cast together and they are stuffing their faces with their families and loving life. It is such a great segment and stuck in my mind long afterwards.
The drinking game
That poor Bolivian Carlos. Each time he is given a hard time, take a swig. He’ll have wanted to too I’m sure.
The 33 covers an awful lot of ground in two hours and does so in a complete and admirable way. Whilst the murky depths of the mines may wash the colour off the screen and dampen some of the characters’ spirit, we still get to enjoy a positive story of courage and survival. One that often doesn’t get a happy ending.
Rating: 3 / 5 Good
If you liked The 33 then you may like…
- The 33 of San Jose – another telling of the same event
- Buried – Ryan Reynolds has been buried alive. Claustrophobic!
- Alive– A similarly toned real-life story of long term courage and survival