Movie Review: “The 33”

331The miraculous rescue of 33 men trapped in a Chilean gold mine 2300 feet underground was one of the feel-good stories of 2010. It makes for a touching and amusing if overlong movie from the director of “Under the Same Moon.”

“The 33” has an old-fashioned feel.  From the Spanish-accented English that dominates the dialogue of the international cast, to the grace notes — a wife sings a lovely Spanish lament, the men hallucinate a last supper with their loved-ones — from the cliched way the government officials and engineers bicker about doing “the impossible,” to the conflicts among the diverse men stuck in the mine’s nearly half-mile deep safe room, this fairly reeks of being “the Hollywood version” of that story.

But darned if the jamon and cheese, laid on thick here, doesn’t work.

There’s the old miner whose retirement party opens the movie, the young father-t0-be (Mario Casas), the alcoholic (Juan Pablo Raba) long-estranged from his older sister (Juliette Binoche), a street vendor whose determination shames the government into action.

Antonio Banderas plays the growling veteran miner who shows flint and organizational moxie when the worst happens. And Lou Diamond Phillips, laying it on thick, is the guilt-ridden colleague, trapped with the others, whose job it is “to keep these men SAFE.” Which he does. Repeatedly. Loudly. Passionately.

The mine, a vast, hundred-year-old chasm so worked and carved up that they drove trucks to deliver the men to the deepest corners of it, will give you the willies. No, there’s little mine safety, no OSHA looking out for these guys. You can smell the corporate shortcuts being taken. And we’ve seen Don Lucho (Phillips) lose his latest passionate safety argument with the corporate hack in charge.

The collapse, when it comes, is nerve-rattling. But quick thinking (by Don Lucho) sent them down, to their sanctuary room, and not fleeing up where they most certainly would have perished.

The only thing about the response that has any urgency to it is the way the company gets police out there to shut down the mine and block access to the site. These guys are trapped. Chile, by tradition it is suggested, doesn’t mount rescues. Managing the tragedy is what they’re all about.

Laurence, the Minister of Mines (Rodrigo Santoro) convinces El Presidente (Bob Gunton) that this will look bad, that it’s their “moral duty” to make an effort. Laurence is sent to Copiapo, in the high Atacama Desert where this mine is located. He’s a little too willing to accept the “nothing can be done” assessment of the mine owners. But a slap from Maria (Binoche) sends him into action.

A Chilean drilling engineer (Gabriel Byrne) has neat 3D mapping software and a quick way of explaining the difficulties to Laurence, and the audience. Several international drilling teams are called in when signs of life below are discovered (James Brolin heads the American effort).

And down below, the miners pray and gripe and go through alcohol withdrawal and lament their limited food, looted first aid kit and shrinking chances of survival.

332Yes, it’s patronizing, from the odd bit of absurd casting (Gunton as President Pinera, for starters) to the hokey, Spanish-accented dialogue. Banderas, however, overcomes the material and makes us feel the shock, fear, anger and regret that must have dominated these men’s thoughts for their months — yes months — underground.

The most authentic moments come from the real Spanish speakers — an Andean woman blessing the drillers, veteran Chilean TV presenter Don Francisco (real name, Mario Kreutzberger) who shows up to lend gravitas and a nation’s hope to the proceedings.

Director Patricia Riggen may dawdle through the many transitions this story took, veer from cute to cutesy as her actors jump from ham to hammy in some scenes. And her ending lacks the gut-punch of delight that the real rescue, covered nonstop on global cable news networks. But she’s delivered a “33” that still still touches and tickles, a film with a  coda that will leave a lump in the throat.


MPAA Rating: PG-13 for a disaster sequence and some language

Cast: Antonio Banderas, Juliette Binoche, Rodrigo Santoro, Lou Diamond Phillips, Bob Gunton, Kate del Castillo, James Brolin
Credits: Directed by Patricia Riggen, script by Mikko Alanne, Craig Broten, Michael Thomas. A Warner Brothers release.

Running time: 2:07

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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