Review: ‘The 33’ Recalls a Chilean Mine Disaster and the Men Who Endured It


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Lou Diamond Phillips and Antonio Banderas in “The 33.”

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Beatrice Aguirre Zúñiga/Warner Bros. Pictures

The ordeal of the 33 Chilean miners trapped deep inside the earth after the collapse of a mine shaft in August 2010 was both an intensely local story and a global phenomenon. As family members waited in a makeshift camp near the mine’s opening, viewers across the world followed the progress of the rescue efforts thanks to round-the-clock news media attention. We breathed sighs of relief and wept tears of joy when the men finally emerged, after more than two months in subterranean heat and darkness. And then, as is our habit, we moved on.

The 33,” a new movie directed by Patricia Riggen from a screenplay by Mikko Alanne, Craig Borten and Michael Thomas, revisits the episode, effectively stirring up those emotions all over again and adding some new ones inspired by the lives of the miners and the challenge of bringing them out alive. In some ways, it’s foolproof material — moving and suspenseful even if you know the outcome. But Ms. Riggen, a Mexican-born filmmaker whose earlier features include “La Misma Luna” and “Girl in Progress,” has grappled with some formidable challenges, including the familiarity of the story. She also faced something of a numbers problem: 33 potential protagonists — as well as wives, sisters, children, government officials and engineers — is an awful lot to keep track of. To make matters trickier, most of those characters spend an awful lot of time confined in a small, stubbornly uncinematic space, not doing anything very dramatic.

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Movie Review: ‘The 33’

The Times critic A.O. Scott reviews “The 33.”


By AINARA TIEFENTHÄLER and ROBIN LINDSAY on Publish Date November 12, 2015.


Photo by Beatrice Aguirre /Warner Bros. Pictures, via Associated Press.

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But with the help of some solid performances and James Horner’s heart-squeezing, throat-constricting score (one of the last he composed before his death in June), “The 33” holds your attention and pushes the required buttons. It starts above ground, at an outdoor party where miners eat, drink, dance, impersonate Elvis Presley and engage in some necessary preliminary exposition. By the time they pile into the bus for work the next morning, we are acquainted with the most important figures. Once the earth shifts and a giant rock seals them into a refuge hundreds of feet down, we know the function each one will play.

The nominal leader is Don Lucho (Lou Diamond Phillips), the captain of the shift, but the actual leader is Mario (Antonio Banderas), a charismatic and persuasive guy who rations food, rallies morale and refuses to give up hope when things look grim. The other miners supply comic relief and dramatic interest. Darío (Juan Pablo Raba) is an alcoholic, comforted in his worst moments by José (Marco Treviño), a devout Christian. One man is about to become a father for the first time. Another is a few weeks from retirement. The Elvis impersonator (Jacob Vargas) teases the only Bolivian (Tenoch Huerta) in the group. Everyone teases Yonni (Oscar Nuñez) because of his complicated love life.

His wife (Adriana Barraza) and mistress (Elizabeth De Razzo) quarrel about who has the right to wait for him with the other kinfolk, who include Darío’s sister (Juliette Binoche) and Mario’s wife (Kate del Castillo). Their presence puts pressure on the Chilean government, represented by a handsome young minister of mining (Rodrigo Santoro) and the portly, silver-haired president (Bob Gunton). The government minister and an engineer (Gabriel Byrne) argue about practicalities, and about how long to keep drilling to find the missing men.

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Trailer: ‘The 33’

The true story of the 2010 collapse of a Chilean mine and the rescue of the 33 miners who were trapped underground for 69 days.


By WARNER BROS. PICTURES on Publish Date October 12, 2015.


Photo by Beatrice Aguirre/Warner Bros. Pictures.

Watch in Times Video »

The dialogue is direct to the point of hokiness. Nearly every scene lands squarely on a clear note of feeling. When people laugh, they laugh much longer and louder than the situation seems to warrant. It’s that kind of movie. If you want richer context and deeper nuance, it can be found in “Deep Down Dark,” the book by the journalist Hector Tobar that is this film’s credited source.

A true story in print is a work of journalism. A true story in a nondocumentary film is something else: a fable, a moralized version of reality. “The 33” sends out feelers in a lot of different directions. The circus outside the mine — the souvenir stands and cameras, the grandstanding politicians and opportunistic show business types — hints at a satire of modern media excess, a variation on the themes of Billy Wilder’s “Ace in the Hole.” The plot sometimes wobbles between the personal and procedural sides of the miners’ plight, but both the science and the sentiment feel a little thin.

The film gains some clarity at the end, and delivers a strong and timely moral. “God was with us” the miners write on the wall of their refuge as they prepare to return to the sunlight, and at several points the movie emphasizes the importance of religion in their lives. This seems like a faith-inflected movie for the age of a Latin American populist pope, a parable of spiritual endurance with an eye on social and economic iniquities. Before the credits roll, we learn that the miners were never compensated for their suffering, and that the mining company was cleared of any negligence, a judgment the film emphatically challenges. We also learn that the 33, whose real-life faces fill the screen at the very end, “remain brothers to this day.”

The moral is plain. Capital and the state don’t really care about you, though they can sometimes be shamed into acting in your interest. Better to put your trust in the Almighty, and in the solidarity of your fellow workers.

“The 33” is rated PG-13 (Parents strongly cautioned). Grave danger and mild profanity. Running time: 2 hours 6 minutes.



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