The story of the Chilean mining disaster is one those incredible moments in our history where disaster didn’t end in tragedy. 33 Chilean miners entered the Sán Jose Mine in August 2010 where a cave in trapped all of them 2300 ft underground in the mining refugee with little resources and hope for rescue. This film tells the story of how they survived but this film doesn’t take opportunity with the story in front of them. It’s a by the book forgettable recount of events which doesn’t seem to capture the true triumph of the rescue.
Director Patricia Riggen does capture the terror of the mining collapse and performances from Antonio Banderas and Lou Dimond Phillips give the film an emotional resonance. The film’s story is trying cover all the different sides to the story: the miners, the families, the government, the rescue workers, the media, and Riggen gives each faction a certain amount of attention but there is so much she tries to cover in this film it means a lack of development for a lot of the story lines. This crisis did effect a lot of people but this lack of focus hurts the film in the long run, I found myself emotionally invested in only a few characters and I can hardly remember any of their names.
A lot about this story that should create a very compelling drama that would keep audiences throughly engaged. The Miner’s deteriorating physical and mental states, family members grieving including pregnant wives and estranged sisters, extreme political and humanitarian pressure of the Chilean government and of course the near hopelessness of the rescue mission. It was a miracle that all 33 miners were saved but this film doesn’t capture that miracle it just recaps it. Yes, most audience members would probably know the outcome of this event going into the film but the story is addressing elements we would have no knowledge of, the film rarely takes creative advantage of the these perspectives.
There are few moments when Riggen does more than just recreation of these events, I think when she allowed her creativity to take hold of the story the film thrived. I refer to the “Last Supper” scene in the second act which brought great humanity to the miners and their story and it makes one wonder how the film could work it was with the miners for the whole duration. I think back to the film Buried (2010) where the film stays with character buried alive for the whole duration, it kept the audience claustrophobic and the only knowledge we have is the same of the character. Because of all the different story lines we the audience are aware of all the facts, so we can’t connect to either sides fears because we know the answers to their questions Yes, we have the general dread of the situation but thats it.
Now I do want to bring up an issue that took me right out of this film. The whitewashing. Nearly every character in this film is from South America so WHY are there caucasian actors playing Chilean people? Juliette Binoche, Gabriel Byrne, Bob Gunton all white people playing Latin Americans. Bob Gunton plays the president of Chile with make up and a terrible accent, it’s absolutely horrible. Whitewashing is a problem and this is one of those films where it takes you right out it, I spent half of my time confused as to why these casting choices had been made, its an insult to the story, filmmakers should know better by now.
Is The 33 worth your time? As always it is your decision alone, this film isn’t horrible it does have its strengths mainly in its performances. The film just seems like a missed opportunity, it a standard recount biopic and the rare creative moments aren’t enough to relieve this film from forgettable mediocrity.