REVIEW: “The 33”

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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.

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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.

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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

3 Stars