The 33 (2015)
Directed by Patricia Riggen
Just over five years ago, on October 13, 2010, the world rejoiced as 33 trapped miners were brought to the surface after 69 days in a collapsed gold and copper mine in the Atacama Desert of Chile. The men survived the first few weeks underground on just three days’ worth of food before a small hole was drilled that allowed food and medical supplies (plus more recreational things) to be delivered, while preparations were made to drill a hole big enough to bring the men out. This miraculous story deserved the big screen treatment, and with help from big-name actors like Antonio Banderas, Lou Diamond Phillips, and Rodrigo Santoro, it gets the move it deserves.
With an ensemble this big, not all 33 men could get equal screen time. Especially considering the time spent telling the story of the wives and sisters (like those played by Cote de Pablo and Juliette Binoche) who camped in tents around the mine site, waiting for their loved ones to be saved, and the government officials and engineers trying to mount a successful rescue effort. But “The 33” finds its central characters, and even without much context you start to become invested in them. Banderas plays “Super” Mario, who became the 33’s fearless leader. The reliable actor is best when his character is in a good mood, but a few times he becomes overly expressive during fits of insincere frustration. Still, Banderas’s unbridled charisma is a catalyst for the film’s spirited energy. As project overseer Don Lucho, Lou Diamond Phillips shows he’s not retired yet. And he shouldn’t be. Recently, he’s had a recurring role in “Longmire,” but very few other notable projects. But Phillips is showing he’s still a comfortable leading man. Maybe he peaked in the late ‘80s (with “La Bamba,” “Stand and Deliver,” and “Young Guns” all over the course of two years), but it’s never too late to make a comeback. As Chile’s Minister of Mining, Santoro shows real emotion in a role that’s vital to the dramatic success of this film. Binoche, playing the sister of one of the miners (a recovering alcoholic played by Juan Pablo Raba) is another emotional pillar. Her passion in a smaller role gives this movie life.
This terrifying true account begins like a disaster movie (a relatively low-budget one, at that), but you quickly see that this isn’t that kind of story. “The 33” is an awe-inspiring, fiercely emotional account. I wasn’t the only one who left the theater with watery eyes. And I don’t consider myself a crier by any means, but this one got to me—and I have a feeling it’ll get to a lot of you, too. The script (written in part by writers of “The Devil’s Double” and “Dallas Buyers Club”) sometimes jumps too quickly between scenes in the mine and updates above ground. It doesn’t let us feel the fear and hopelessness that sets in with the miners trapped more than 2,300 feet below ground (the distance of more than seven football fields). But eventually, that didn’t matter. You get hooked by the characters’ unique stories. The script was at times deadly serious, but the comradery of the men (who, to this day, consider themselves brothers) leads to many humorous and entertaining exchanges. Soon, you love their bond so much you kind of wish you were down there with them. But this extraordinary story of heroism and grit is a powerful reminder of the power of human might. And blessed by the late James Horner’s penultimate score, “The 33” gets the music the touching story deserves, too. I had heard very little about “The 33” before seeing it. Only once have I seen the trailer on television. So I hope you’ll take this opportunity to seek out one of 2015’s precious gems for yourself. Consider this your recommendation. “The 33” has it all.