Chilean miner saga ‘The 33’ showcases the power of hope and community

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Though its existence is more than justified by the power of the source material, The 33 fails to deliver the gripping drama promoted throughout its lengthy marketing campaign.

In 2010, a group of 33 Chilean miners found themselves trapped 2,300 feet below the surface of Earth following a shift in the structure of the mountain they were working within. The workers were able to reach a safety center erected for the very purpose of keeping survivors alive in times of tragedy, but with only three days’ worth of food and water to aid them, the likelihood of rescue was incredibly slim. Still, the miners kept hope alive, as did their families, and over the course of several weeks the tiny community they called home in the middle of rural Chile became the focus of the world’s attention.

This is not a film about the media and how the world came to the aid of one small town that had, until that point, largely gone unnoticed by the outside world. This is a film about the human spirit, and how we as creatures are able to overcome even the most unbelievable predicaments if only have other humans to lean on. It’s a tale of community, and how the bonds we share with one another ultimately determine our strength as individuals. We may be strong, but together we are stronger, and if nothing else The 33 serves as a reminder of how anything is possible we people work towards shared goals.

Everything you need to make a blockbuster drama is in this story, and the fact it actually happened only sweetens the pot. For starter, you have a cast of working class characters with universally relatable situations, from the father who works too much to the new guy who doesn’t know anyone, the newlywed with a baby on the way and even an old man who thought he had seen it all. There is an archetype of every man, woman and to even child imaginable, and producers hope that fact makes the terror these families experience connect with viewers in a deep way. There is also a tale of survival being told, and it’s one that doesn’t rely too heavily on a specific way of life or religion to be told. Again, this is something that conceptually offers universal appeal. Everyone loves a story of real people overcoming the odds, and in this case you have 33 unique stories to tell.

The impact The 33 has on you as a viewer will likely depend largely on your prior knowledge of the real life story. Though the narrative does play with a few facts about the miners’ survival, the end result is exactly the same, and knowing what becomes of the miners when the story reaches its end more or less deflates any tension that attempts to develop during tough times. This does not have to be the case necessarily, as compelling performances can always make the familiar feel knew once more, but The 33 moves far too fast for anyone to offer a truly compelling turn. While there are no doubt standout performances, specifically those delivered by Antonio Banderas, Juliette Binoche, Rodrigo Santoro and Lou Diamond Phillips, The 33 is largely an ensemble piece. In order to effectively tell what happened to the miners, as well as their families, over the course of two months in under two hours, the plot must forgo lingering on any one moment too long. It’s forgivable—even understandable—but it does ultimately restrict the depth the story and characters are able to reach.

Though it’s only a small quibble, the digital effects in The 33 also leave a lot to be desired. The film has essentially one action sequence, and from the very moment it begins there are signs of sloppy design made worse by poor rendering. It’s a good thing such a moment only occurs once, and that it happens at a point so early on you may forget its ugliness by the time the credits roll, but its lackluster execution leaves much to be desired.

Those looking for an uplifting tale of the human spirit and what can be accomplished when people put aside their differences for the greater good are sure to find something to enjoy in The 33. The story behind the film is far too powerful for even those most familiar with the source material to not feel a little moved when the resolution occurs onscreen, and even if the cast looks nothing like the actual miners involved (who are all shown during the film’s final moments) their dedication to the script is worthy of commendation. Filmmaker Patricia Riggen took on a big challenge with this film, one that fell far outside her comfort zone as a director, and to her credit she does a fine job of delivering both sides of a very complex story in a way that never feels melodramatic or heavy-handed. I wholeheartedly believe a better version of this film could be made, but as is it’s not half-bad.