Film Review: The 33 (★★)

thirty_three_ver10I have no doubt that there’s a powerful film to be made about the chilean miners that captured our attention about a half decade ago. Sadly, The 33 is not that film. Well intentioned and good natured, the movie is all over the place, with certain sequences that are downright terrible. Now, director Patricia Riggen is able to rally a bit in the end and create a few moving moments, but much of this plays like a cut rate made for cable version of this story. A lot of the blame lies at the feet of the writers (more on them later), but Riggen is unable to inspire the troops, as it were. You’d think that telling this tale would make for riveting cinema, but outside of parts of the lead performance by Antonio Banderas, very little of it winds up working. The 33 takes the two month plus struggle of these workers and renders it monotonous, tone deaf, and sometimes even a bore. It’s a shame really, as the potential was there, but only briefly does it ever even come close to being realized. There’s enough at the end to keep this from being an overt disaster, but a disappointment this still surely is. The 33 is bland and uninspiring, which boggles your mind when you think about it. Alas.

This is a dramatization of the event in 2010 where 33 chilean miners were trapped in a collapse and against all odds survived for 69 days underground before being rescued. We begin by meeting a number of the miners, with it quickly being established that Mario Sepúlveda (Banderas) is soon to be their leader. The chief on the job Don Lucho (Lou Diamond Phillips) has concerns for their safety, but the boss waves it off. Obviously, things don’t go well and the worst occurs. Quickly, the Chilean President Piñera (Bob Gunten) makes it a priority for the men to be rescued. Minister of Mining Laurence Golborne (Rodrigo Santoro) does what he can, with special engineer Andre Sougarret (Gabriel Byrne) brought on later. They all rally to save the men, while their families look on. Below, Lucho, Sepúlveda, and the rest battle to survive and stay sane. Yes, that’s really all their is to this. Scenes depicting rationing of food and discord among the men are often too broadly handled, making for a lack of stakes, which is insane when you think about it. We all know how this one is going to end, but still…

the33movie11f-9-webA very random cast is on display here, with most of the ensemble falling into the background. The best of the bunch is Antonio Banderas, but this isn’t a performance to go crazy over. He just benefits by being given the best dialogue and the most to do. Banderas is fine, but nothing to really write home about. The other 32 miners are so one note, some are only shown maybe once over the course of the whole flick (literally about 20 are listed in the credits as simply Miner 1, Miner 2, etc). Above ground, Rodrigo Santoro is basically the other lead, playing the suit who sees the light and becomes a crusader to save these men. He’s solid enough, but again, no one to go nuts over. The aforementioned Gabriel Byrne is fine as well, with Bob Gunten basically cameoing. The same can be said for James Brolin as an American helping man a drill, while aside from the previously mentioned Lou Diamond Phillips, the large cast in The 33 includes a wasted Juliette Binoche as a miner’s sister. It’s a rather anonymous ensemble, overall, a case of quantity but not too much quality. Banderas is best in show, but to some degree I’m just damning with faint praise here.

Director Patricia Riggen seems unsure just what scale she wants things to be. Sometimes she wants to make an intimate picture, while sometimes she’s attempting to go full scale epic. Neither take really works, but Riggen was definitely shoe strung by a half baked script. The team of Mikko Alanne, Craig Borten, and Michael Thomas wrote the screenplay, with screen story credits on the book adaptation going to Jose Rivera. Perhaps there were too many cooks, but nothing sticks here. Sometimes it’s a tribute to faith, sometimes it’s going for cheap laughs (one miner has a wife and a mistress who fight for a spot in the family camp, and that’s supposed to be hilarious), and sometimes they want to make you cry. With the exception of the ending, it never works. At least Riggen has a strong score from the late James Horner, but that’s not nearly enough to save things here.

I can’t call The 33 an outright bad movie, but it is a mediocre one that often shoots itself in the foot. The film occasionally is terrible and occasional works, but mostly just sits there like a lox. Big fans of Banderas (if that’s still a thing) might enjoy him in a heroic type of role, but by and large this is a missed opportunity to tell a story worth telling. Done properly, this could have been an awards contender. Sadly though, that’s not the case. The 33 is far too mediocre to be worth your valuable time, not when Oscar caliber films are opening up all around it…

Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!