Review: The 33
PLOT: The true story of thirty-three Chilean miners, who found themselves trapped over 2000 feet underground for sixty-nine days with little-to-no hope of rescue.
REVIEW: I wanted to like THE 33. In our era of big stars and tent pole projects, a movie about the thirty-three Chilean miners feels like an unlikely big studio project, but to their credit Warner Bros has invested a significant budget into a film with no big American stars and a defiantly non-commercial subject matter. However, it’s a shame THE 33 isn’t the triumph of content over style and bombast it might have been, with director Patricia Riggen’s film being relatively entertaining but ultimately forgettable and too cheesy to ever get put up for real awards consideration.
In many ways, THE 33 is like something that would have been made back in the nineties, with a surprisingly un-P.C cast. Many of the actors, like Antonio Banderas, Rodrigo Santoro, Kate del Castillo and others are Spanish, Mexican, Brazilian, Columbian – basically anything but Chilean (although some more minor cast members may be). At least they’re Latino. Many of the other Chilean parts are played by Europeans and Americans, with people like Bob Gunton (American) and Lou Diamond Phillips (Filipino- American), Gabriel Byrne (Irish) and most awkwardly of all – Juliette Binoche (French) adopting accents. None of them are bad, but it’s – for lack of a better word – odd to watch them pretend to be Chilean.
Despite the bizarre casting, the performances in THE 33 are mostly solid. Antonio Banderas is actually quite excellent as the miners’ de-facto leader, “Super” Mario, whose can-do attitude and pleasant disposition keeps the men from surrendering to despair, allowing them to cautiously ration-out their meager food supply and keep them from killing each other (not easy for thirty-three hot-tempered men stuck in a small space in 100 degree heat for more than two months). Lou Diamond Phillips, who’s been absent from the big-screen too long, has some good moments as the foreman who harbors a guilty conscience when his warnings to his heartless mine-owner bosses go unheeded, leaving the men with no hope of escape.
In some ways, THE 33 is a bit like THE MARTIAN in that it features our heroes in particularly dire situations, but ones they’re committed to overcoming with a healthy, positive attitude (the late James Horner’s score works overtime conveying the warmth of the miners and their families). Given that - unlike THE MARTIAN – THE 33 is actually real, the story should have more oomph and kick than it does. Maybe it’s Riggan and screenwriter José Rivera emphasis on melodrama that does the film-in somewhat, with too many subplots, including The Office’s Oscar Nunez’s comic philandering (with scenes between his wife and mistress being played-out as almost slapstick in nature). As much as I like Binoche, she’s horribly miscast and her entire role could have been cut without affecting the film too much. However, it’s nice to see some underused-as-of-late character actors getting some time on the big screen, with folks like Gunton and James Brolin doing their best with the material.
While not a perfect film by any means, I’ll admit that at times THE 33 really worked for me. Mostly, this is due to Banderas’ charismatic performance and the undeniably amazing sequence of events that took place in the mine, with the outcome being a good one none of us cynics could have predicted. In that regard, THE 33 is worth seeing, but it can’t be denied this could have been a much better film.