Bureaucratic hemming and hawing scored in survival drama
You can’t talk about “The 33” and not discuss spoilers about the movie—after all, Patricia Riggen’s survival drama is based on the much-publicized 2010 Copiaco incident in Chile, where 33 miners were trapped inside the San Jose Mine, following a cave-in at the 121-year-old gold-and-copper digging site on the Atacama Desert—for 69 days!
“The 33,” led by Mario Sepulveda (Antonio Banderas) and foreman Luis Urzua (Lou Diamond Phillips), were given only a slim chance of surviving: The only path inside the mine was completely blocked, and the mining company initially found it pointless to arrange a rescue mission because, as its manager rationalized, it had collapsed five times in the last 25 years—with no survivors!
The Chilean government and the international drillers who volunteered to help dig out the trapped men had their work cut out for them, because the food in the rescue chamber was good for only three days. In addition, the miners were buried too far down—about 700 meters underground! It also didn’t help that the old mine was known for its geological instability and a string of safety violations!
The movie alternately soars and stalls as it chronicles the bureaucratic hemming and hawing that takes place before the government decides to act on the impassioned requests for urgent help of Chilean mining minister Laurence Golborne (Rodrigo Santoro), Maria Segovia (Juliette Binoche, in an impressive thespic vanishing act) and Andre Sougarret (Gabriel Byrne), the unflappable engineer who masterminded the pitch-perfect escape operation.
The film gives Banderas, Santoro, Phillips and Binoche solid resources to thespically draw from, as they compellingly work their way through “meaty” scenes with conviction, and turn in persuasively proficient portrayals.
The supporting cast is another matter, however: Yes, heightened drama is par for the course in tragedy-driven tearjerkers like this—but, while the film’s heart is in the right place, the occasional vein-popping dramatic caterwauling of the production’s predominantly Latino cast gets on viewers’ nerves.
That said, it’d be foolhardy to undermine the courage and bravery of this inspiring tale’s diverse dramatis personae, brought to palpable life by an ungainly mishmash of seasoned and neophyte performers.
Disasters like this resonate with us, because the victims’ gritty and grippingly “relatable” struggle to rise above the ruins hits close to home.
Moreover, their miraculous survival reminds us never to give up—even when the odds are stacked against us!