FILM REVIEW – THE 33. With Antonio Banderas, Rodrigo Santoro, Juliette Binoche James Brolin, Lou Diamond Phillips. Written by Mikko Alanne and Craig Borten and Michael Thomas. Directed by Patricia Riggen. Rated PG-13 for a disaster sequence and some language. 127 minutes.
It sounds strange, but THE 33 is the feel-good mining disaster of the movie of the year. Based on the true story of the Chilean miners who–amazingly–were trapped in a cave-in for 69 days and lived to tell the tale, this is an uplifting story of the triumph of the human spirit. As such, some viewers will embrace it while the more cynical types will dismiss it out of hand.
In fact, it’s a compelling story given that most of the action takes place within the mine and up on top, where family members demand action, and officials and engineers try to figure out if there’s anything they can do. It’s not an easy story to make interesting, taking three credited writers, but somehow it works.
Our focus after the cave-in is on just a few of the thirty-three, notably Mario Sepúlveda (Antonio Banderas) and Don Lucho (Lou Diamond Phillips). The latter is the foreman of the crew, which puts him in an awkward position as they come to realize just how poorly the mining company has prepared for this situation. Indeed, above ground, the company representative is ready to write them all off as beyond rescue. Mario is just one of the crew but is a natural leader and becomes the person who tries to hold things together, whether it’s enforcing the rationing of their meager food supplies to preventing the despondent from taking their own lives.
Meanwhile the families have gathered at the gates (which the mining company has barred), led by María Segovia (Juliette Binoche), whose brother is one of the miners. They get nowhere until the arrival of Laurence Golborne (Rodrigo Santoro), an aide to the president of Chile who convinces his boss that to do nothing and let the miners die would be devastating for the country.
Even though we know how it turns out (and get to see the real miners at the very end of the film), there is a surprising amount of suspense along the way. As various methods are tried to locate the miners–with most of the exploratory drills missing the chamber they are in deep within the mountain–it’s easy to get caught up in the moment. Director Patricia Riggen brings the same emotional honesty she brought to “Under The Same Moon” but is now working on a much larger scale than a young boy searching for his mother. She deftly juggles the above- and below-ground stories, as well as the character vignettes, such as one miner who is being mourned by both his wife and his mistress.
“The 33” is a powerful story about not giving up. It may not have the high profile of some of the other “serious” films that are out now or will be coming out in the next several weeks for awards season, but it serves as a reminder that there are happy endings possible in real-life.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His most recent book is “Shh! It’s a Secret: a novel about Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide.” He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.