The Inherent Drama of ‘The 33’ is Buried in a Collapsing Film

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In 2010 the world was captivated by the story of 33 Chilean miners trapped 2,300 feet below the Earth’s surface for 69 harrowing days until each and every one of them was successfully pulled from the collapsed mine. The true story is an inspirational tale of overcoming adversity, of people working together through the most difficult of circumstances and pulling off a nearly impossible feat. The 33, the inevitable movie adaptation of this amazing true story, is closer to being a recreation of being stranded underground for over two months than a dramatic interpretation. This is a dramatically inert film featuring some of the most wooden dialogue of recent memory.

The film’s story plays out on two fronts. First, the miners led by Mario Sepúlveda (Antonio Banderas) and Don Lucho (Lou Diamond Phillips) and their plight trapped underground. Second, the attempts to free the miners led by government official Laurence Golborne (Rodrigo Santoro) and drilling expert André Sougarret (Gabriel Byrne), who are also forced to encounter with the panicked families of the trapped miners, led by María Segovia (Juliette Binoche). There are, however, numerous other miners trapped down there and only a few and their selective families are given a small semblance of a backstory. If you have any recollection of news from five years ago, you know how The 33 ends.

But knowing the ending of the events doesn’t matter, and it’s not what makes The 33 such a slog to sit through. Granted, it’s really tough to make a strong two-hour movie when your story features beyond the eponymous 33 miners, their families, and government works over a time span of 69 days. Still, there’s no reason that The 33 should be ridden with groan-inducing dialogue of momentary despair squashed with inspirational platitudes. The script by Mikko Alanne, Craig Borten, and Michael Thomas (working of a screen story by Jose Rivera based on the book Deep Down Dark by Hector Tobar) fails to give any character beyond Banderas’ Mario Sepúlveda a unique voice, resulting in sea of sweaty anonymity in the mine. Hard as they try, they’re unable to mine the interpersonal relationships for any additional dramatic weight.

Director Patricia Riggen can’t wrangle all the different elements of the story beyond the sedimentary script’s poor characterizations. There are no jarringly awful moments of incompetence from her direction, but the decision to shoot the collapse of the mine in a manner indistinguishable from most action films robs The 33 of its one chance at a strong visceral payoff.

There’s a darker edge to The 33, and not a dark dramatic edge. For reasons I can’t quite fathom in 2015, The 33 features a number of white actors playing Chileans. A wonderful French actress, Juliette Bincohe is given a bit of bronzer and asked to the play the sister of one of the trapped miners. Considering her immense talent, it might be forgivable if Irish actor Gabriel Byrne and American actor Bob Gunton weren’t also cast as key Chileans involved in the rescue of these trapped individuals. The wobbly accents of the actors, especially Byrne who can’t obscure his Irish brogue, only draw attention to this shockingly antiquated form of casting. Making matters worse, the soundtrack composed by the late great James Horner plays like a parody of American cinema’s portrayal of South American nations. I sincerely hope this isn’t the last score from a true legend in the field.

One of the few attempts at humor is when miner Yonni Barrios (Oscar Nuñez) has his wife and mistress crowded outside the collapsed mine, fighting over who has the right to wait for their lover. But these few moments land with a total thud. When The 33 can’t make those real life moments work, you can’t expect it to make the more dramatic ones work. This is a film as soundly constructed as that mine in Chile.

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