I can’t help myself. I’ve always had a soft spot for disaster flicks and there has never been a shortage of them. Hollywood has found a way to make a movie about any and every conceivable disaster. The good ones are fun, exciting, and inspired. But many have been shallow, formulaic, and shamelessly melodramatic. “The 33” is the latest and let’s just say it falls somewhere in between.
Based on the 2010 Chilean mining accident, the title refers to the thirty-three miners who were trapped some 200 stories down after the San José Mine near Copiapó, Chile collapsed. The story gained global attention with news agencies from around the world covering the day-by-day rescue efforts. Concerned family members stood vigilantly by pressing for action which led to the Chilean government taking over the intense rescue operation.
The film follows most of these main story points with its own bits of drama added in. We get the obligatory introduction scene when local families are having a big shindig. The following day the miners head to work 17,000 feet below ground. A foreman (Lou Diamond Phillips) has growing concerns over the mine’s safety but the owners dismiss his suggestions. As the men start their work the mine begins to collapse driving them deeper into the mountain. The thirty-three make it to a safe room called The Refuge only to find its food and water supply understocked and the radio broken. They are trapped with few supplies and no way of communicating.
Antonio Banderas plays Mario, the face of the miners and their de facto leader. Banderas is quite good spreading inspiration and emotion like butter on toast. I always find him entertaining and any fault with him can be tracked to the script. He is often asked to lay it on really thick, something he has no trouble doing. He is also given a few corny made-for-the-movies lines. After the mine collapses he says “That is the heart of the mountain. She finally broke.” You can’t help but laugh.
The second part of the story takes place above ground. The private company who owns the mine wants to keep things quiet, but their resources for a rescue are limited. Family members led by the fiery Maria (Juliette Binoche) grow tired of the lack of information about their loved ones. The young Minister of Mining (Rodrigo Santoro) convinces Chile’s President Piñera (played by Bob Gunton in an odd bit of casting) to send him to the site to oversee the rescue attempt. Gabriel Byrne is brought in as the chief engineer and James Brolin pops up as a drill operator.
The topside story hops back and forth between the efforts of the rescue team and the families gathered outside the mine in a makeshift camp. There are several decent dramatic threads between the two but nothing that stands out. The same could be said about the drama inside the mine. After a really good opening the miners’ story grinds to a halt. In fact the entire movie drags its feet around the midway point. A good 20 minute cut to the film’s bulky 127 minute running time would have helped a lot.
There are some good performances, an inspirational true story, a really good beginning, an emotionally satisfying ending, and one of the final scores from the great James Horner. But aside from the laggy middle, the film mainly suffers from being glaringly formulaic. Being based on a true story obviously tips its hand in many regards, but “The 33” hits nearly every disaster movie tick. I still enjoyed the film overall, but I kept waiting for it to do something unique. It never quite does.
VERDICT – 3 STARS
Good stuff, man. I was curious about this one. I think I just might check it out.
Thanks bro. It’s a good movie but it is really by-the-books which is a little disappointing. It does tell a good true story though and there are some nice performances. Do you remember when the accident happened? As I recall it was a pretty big news story over here.
Well-intentioned, but man, the script’s pretty lousy. Nice review Keith.
Thanks Dan. I think the script has some high points but ultimately you’re right. There are some pretty lame moments.
We are on the same page with this film. I had some issues with it but if you want a cheesy inspirational film it fits the bill
You’re right. It does fit the bill. What did you think of the performances particularly Banderas? I really like the guy and he is always good even when his material lets him down.
I liked him and in general the performances inside the mine better than outside. Juliette Binoche I thought was miscast and I found it distracting that some characters spoke spanish with subtitles and some english with accents. They should have picked one. I also felt like they were trying to please everyone. At times it felt like a faith based film but then they’d do things that wouldnt work for that audience. But I did still enjoy watching it maybe partly because I didnt really remember this incident.
Great point about Binoche. I liked her mainly because she is a favorite of mine. At the same time I kept thinking “She’s not Chilean”. I also thought casting Gunton as the president was pretty weird.
Now that you’ve reviewed an American movie about Chile (that I happen to hate), will you review a Chilean movie? It doesn’t have to be about Chile.
Absolutely. I love foreign films (often more than American ones). In fact “The Club” is so intriguing to me. That’s one I would love to get ahold of.
It had potential, didn’t it? Too bad it fell flat. 3 stars is a fair score. Nice review, Keith.
Thanks Cindy. I think there are some definite positives to take away. But the flaws are pretty glaring. Overall I did enjoy it. Pretty remarkable true story, isn’t it?
Hey Keith! I saw this at TCFF and I agree it’s a tad melodramatic but I think overall it’s enjoyable. I wasn’t too familiar w/ the actual events, and I feel that people who do might be more critical about the film. I think 3 stars is fair, I love some of the cast, Banderas was fun to watch though Binoche is a bit underused here. I do like the fantasy moment of the dinner feast, it breaks up the somber mood of the film nicely I think, and it’s so unexpected.
You’re right. That scene with the miners at the table is a good one. I too liked Banderas. But I always do. He doesn’t always have the best material but he always gives an earnest performance. I love Binoche but did you feel she was a tad oddly cast? I had read where Jennifer Lopez was originally cast in the tole but dropped out due to American Idol obligations.
Yeah, I feel that she’s almost too good for the role. She is a 1000 times better actress than Lopez so it’s odd that she’s replacing her. The cinematography is gorgeous though, the DP was at the screening, I got to chat with him briefly and they actually filmed it in a mine!
Oh that would’ve been great. I’m jealous. You can tell they put a lot of time and effort into the details. Those were definitely some of the movies strengths.
Seems you enjoyed this more than most. I maintain that I don’t see myself rushing out for this. Great work Keith!
I wouldn’t rush out to see it. It’s not a bad movie hence the mild recommendation. But it is so formulaic Zoe. As I mentioned it hits practically every disaster movie tick. Are you a fan of anyone in the cast? There are a couple of performances worth seeing.
Not a particular fan of anyone, no, but maybe one day I will feel that whole disaster movie thing with some decent performances.
In that case definitely don’t rush out to see it. There are several better movies that I would put ahead of it. Spotlight is the big one. I keep thinking of flattering things to say about it that didn’t make it into my review.
You really loved that one 🙂 I know that feeling – sometimes something is just so awesome.
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