The 33 was directed by Patricia Riggen (Dopesick, Girl in Progress), written by Mikko Alanne (Mapplethorpe), Craig Borten (Dallas Buyers Club), and Michael Thomas (The Hunger, Ladyhawke) who adapted the book by Hector Tobar. It stars Antonio Banderas (The 13th Warrior, Security), Lou Diamond Phillips (Young Guns, Route 666), Mario Casas (Witching and Bitching), Adriana Barraza (Bingo Hell, Rambo: Last Blood), Rodrigo Santoro (300, Lost), Juliette Binoche (Ghost in the Shell, Godzilla), Gabriel Byrne (End of Days, Hereditary), Bob Gunton (Ghostbusters: Afterlife), and James Brolin (Westworld, Capricorn One). It follows 33 Chilean miners and their rescuers as they work together to survive and escape a collapsed mine.
The Plot: Riggen and the writers faced an uphill battle in trying to captivate audiences with The 33, a highly publicized story that culminated in an even more publicized outcome. Gold miners Mario (Banderas), Don (Phillips), Alex (Casas), and plenty more are heading down for a normal day of work; however, Don is privy to the fact that the mountain they’re under is shifting; but no one else cares.
There’s quite a good disaster sequence when the mine inevitably collapses, and shortly after, the families; led by Marta (Barraza) and Maria (Binoche) of the miners show up to make noise. G-man Golborne (Santoro) is sent by President Pinera (Gunton) to surveille and Andre (Byrne) and his team are sent to drill down to get the men, as are other drilling companies, including one led by Hart (Brolin). Riggen does do a bit of deviating from reality for dramatic heft but mostly succeeds in providing the broad strokes of the operation, never particularly nailing one perspective over the other.
The Characters: By virtue of the fact that there were 33 men trapped in the mine and dozens of others working on or involved with the rescue, The 33 narrows focus to only a few of the miners and a handful of outsiders. Mario is the most commanding of the bunch. Not in a bossy sense, but he’s functionally the leader due to his military experience, rationing out the food and keeping infighting to a minimum.
Don Lucho is shown to be more cautious and less inclined to move from the refuge where everyone resides. His arc is only going from blaming himself for not keeping his men safe as his foreman job would entail, to not blaming himself, which happens with little emphasis. Alex works the best for the story due to his refusal to know his unborn child’s gender until he gets out, leaving himself an unanswered question to keep him going. Everyone else is a template character that goes through motions and generic arcs that, while realistic, never feel more than merely functional.
The Drama: Between drilling sequences and the numerous schmaltzy musical cues, the drama only really works in half measures. Because the characters are largely one-note and the effort is made to show all positions of the situation, leaving almost everyone undercooked, few of what should be touching moments hold water. Food inevitably runs out before any of the drills have reached the men, and there are some pretty good moments where the reality of the pain they’re all about to feel is the focus and one where Mario is given the key to the box of the food.
But like the majority of the potential drama in The 33; it’s brushed off to focus on the outside when the inside is much more interesting. A flip-floppy feeling is omnipresent because of the frequent shifts in focus, most notably involving the pseudo-exiling Mario is given and the breakdown in brotherhood that lasts for a few minutes; and Andre’s order to give up that he immediately drops a couple of scenes later. The story itself is sound, but the drama’s mostly a wash.
The Technics: It’s mostly the script and tone that make The 33 crumble. Riggen does try her hardest to give credit to everyone that deserves it (it really is an admirable effort) but juxtaposed with scenes that begin to show how the hardship affected the men, the story that should’ve focused more on the blame to forgiveness arc instead goes for heartstrings and throws off the whole thing. James Horner’s penultimate score is very good but perhaps overused in tandem with the unfocused drama to wring tears out of the audience. It all sounds good but feels just slightly off.
Those miners and the people that saved them surely deserve the credit The 33 aspires to give them. And while the movie gets some good moments from the story, it mostly coasts on the goodwill towards the people instead of providing a truly compelling insight into just one facet of the event.
The 33 is available on Digital, DVD and Blu-Ray from Warner Brothers.