December 15, 2015
"The 33" is a dramatic film about the mining accident in the San Jose Mines in Chile where 33 miners were trapped in a mine chamber 700 meters underground, with food only enough for three days. Led by natural leader Mario Sepulveda (Antonio Banderas) and mine foreman Don Lucho Urzua (Lou Diamond Phillips), the miners struggle to survive despite their very limited resources and various interpersonal conflicts. As their relatives and friends anxiously gather above to keep vigil, Chilean Mining Minister Laurence Golborne (Rodrigo Santoro) and Engineer Andre Sougarret (Gabriel Byrne), with international efforts led by American Jeff Hart (James Brolin), desperately work against time to rescue them.
Working on a script by Mikko Alanne, Craig Borten and Michael Thomas, Mexican-born director Patricia Riggen was able to tell this harrowing tale of human survival in a most engaging manner. The material could have been very unwieldy, with stories of 33 men which she could have chosen from. The filmmakers developed a scenario, a bit cheesy but effective nonetheless, where most of the main characters and their personalities could be introduced to us without lengthening the film unnecessarily. The mine accident happens within the first fifteen minutes, and the rest of the 2-hour film would concentrate on the survival efforts below and the rescue efforts above.
The ensemble cast led by Banderas and Santoro did well, but it was a bit awkward to hear everybody speaking in stilted-sounding English with a Spanish accents. I guess that this choice was made for wider audience reach. I wish they subtitled those scenes where Spanish was actually used though. Casting non-Latinos as Chileans was a rather odd decision. Anyhow, I did not recognize Juliette Binoche as the strong female character Maria Segovia, a role which was originally supposed to have been played by a true Latin beauty, Jennifer Lopez. Familiar American character actor Bob Gunton was cast as Chilean president Sebastian Pinera, which was distracting.
The dreary topic may not appeal to all audiences, but this film had a lot of positive points going for it. The camera angles and editing made for exciting viewing, despite the fact we already have an idea how this story would turn out. There was an unexpectedly bright and joyous dream sequence which broke the dark monotony of the mines scenes at just the right time. There was an emotional song entitled "Gracias a la Vida (Thanks to Life)" powerfully sung by Chilean "NCIS" actress Cote de Pablo in a particularly moving sequence. It was interesting to learn certain cultural details incorporated into the story, including the issues with Bolivians and the media. The final tribute to the real 33 before the closing credits was a very nice touch. 7/10.