Review: The 33

It’s only been five years since the world stayed up all night watching 33 Chilean miners get rescued from a mine, and escape an almost certain death.

Apparently, five years is enough time to make a movie about it.

The 33 alternates the miners’ story of into two parts: Part one is everything that happens above ground. Laurence Golborne (Rodrigo Santoro), the Minster of Minery (sounds like a wrestling name), and Maria Segovia (Juliette Binoche), the sister of a trapped miner, lead efforts to help rescue the miners.

Part two focuses on the miners trapped in what’s known as the “rescue chamber”.  After a boulder, the size of two Empire State Buildings, collapses in the heart of the mountain, the miners are buried alive. There are no ladders, no radio, limited air and very little food for 33 men.  Their chances of survival are slim. Their story focuses on a core group of the 33 led by Mario Sepulveda (Antonio Banderas) and Luis Urzua ) Lou Diamond Phillips).

The Chilean government actively trying to help, the families camping out at the drill site and the numerous failed rescue attempts are necessary to the story. Unfortunately, those parts don’t translate well in the film. The performances by everyone in the above ground scenes are decent, but they don’t have any emotional impact on the story. Those scenes should be charged with emotion, but they’re not. Those moments feel like the film is going through motions to reach the inevitable rescue.

The below ground performances are not only excellent and full of emotion; they’re the heart and soul of the film.

Antonio Banderas leads the way with one of his best performances in years. After Machete Kills and The Expendables 3, it’s easy to forget Banderas is the same guy from The Skin I Live in and Philadelphia. Not to mention, Lou Diamond Phillips gives arguably the best performance of his career – sorry Young Guns’ fans.Watching Phillips give a fiery performance only makes me think of everything that could’ve been with his career.

Most of the scenes inside the mine are  Banderas and Phillips doing a two-man weave and periodically letting other actors take shots. At times, watching them go toe-to-toe in emotionally charged scenes felt like watching a play. It’s not exactly DeNiro and Pacino in Heat, but it’s fun to watch two seasoned actors go head-to-head.

Ultimately what makes The 33 work is how the miners handle being trapped aka the part of the story audiences doesn’t know. From coming to grips with certain death to harrowing rescue, various emotions play out during those scenes. The best part –  all the men are flawed. Each and everyone one of them and the movie never shies away from that.  There’s no prefect hero or perfect plan. They’re all trapped and struggling to survive in a situation where they should be dead.

The most interesting part of the story comes at the end in the form of a title card. We learn the mining company was never criminally charged and the miners were never compensated. What happened after they got rescued sounds a lot more compelling than the boring above ground shenanigans.

I know the god awful use of “Say Something” by A Great Big World in the trailer will turn people off, but it shouldn’t. For a film that everyone knows the ending to, The 33 has more heart than it should.  Banderas and Phillips are the pulse of this film and at the epicenter of every scene worth watching. The two of them alone are worth the price of admission.

Grade: B-