“The 33,” about a real-life Chilean mining disaster that ensnared 33 miners, contains its fair share of scary and inspirational moments, but it often gets trapped under the superficiality of its script. Think “The Perfect Storm,” except that much of the action takes place underground.
The canary in the coal mine appears in the first scene of this English-language movie, when we visit a retirement party and not one character is developed, unless you consider impersonating Elvis or seeking employment to be character development. These folks are walking plot devices, even though game actors like Antonio Banderas and Lou Diamond Phillips try valiantly to breathe life into them.
Director Patricia Riggen delivers an effectively foreboding sequence in which the workers enter the claustrophobic shaft, and she reconstructs the cave-in with a frightening flair that gives us a visceral sense of being trapped. But when the rocks stop falling and the miners hole up down deep, the shallowness of the screenplay begins to choke the air out of the film.
Many of the problems arise because this material is probably more suited for a TV miniseries. There is a lot of ground to cover here: 33 miners, lots of family members, a host of government officials, and the media-sensation disaster itself. Even the brilliant Juliette Binoche, a welcome presence in any film, is reduced to whipping up empanadas and looking wistfully beyond a fence – basically standing there and doing nothing. And this is one of the most developed characters in the movie.
Once it becomes clear that the miners will be rescued, the film hits a rough patch, as we wait for the drilling machines to operate correctly and the miners to settle a squabble over a book deal. In a story with this much potential drama, the lack of emotionally complex scenes is disappointing.
Despite these problems, the final minutes of the movie help make up for it. The tense rescue of the first miner is exhilarating, and even the most jaded of viewers will be moved by the reunions of the workers and their families – not to mention the final scene at the beach. Unlike “The Perfect Storm,” the ocean in this film is much friendlier than the land.
Cast: Antonio Banderas, Juliette Binoche, Lou Diamond Phillips
Director: Patricia Riggen
Length: 120 minutes
Rating: PG-13 (disaster sequence and some language)
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