“[The 33] really emphasizes some element of human bonding in the wake of a tragedy.”

by Steve Pulaski

The 33 is a more satisfying film than I was initially expecting, largely because, especially in the wake of this tragic weekend that saw chaos in multiple different countries and countless causalities and injuries all over the world, it’s a film that really emphasizes some element of human bonding in the wake of a tragedy. Granted, the characters in this film are pretty thin and bound together only by seriously unfortunate circumstances, but that doesn’t entirely matter. The film focuses on their bonding and their acts of cooperation in a time when survival seems astronomically unlikely.

The 33 looks at a variety of angles revolving around the collapse of a mine in Chile in 2010, which left thirty-three miners trapped until complex drilling equipment could be acquired in order to determine if they were even still alive. Most presumed the miners would’ve been killed when the heart of the mountain collapsed or would starve to death before help even began to reach them. When the drilling commenced, and discovered that all the men in the mining crew were alive and surviving off of the mine’s limited supply of food and water in the refuge, trying to build a system that could extract the miners was going to take more time and effort on part of the Chilean government. The miners were trapped for sixty-nine days before being rescued.

The 33
Directed by
Patricia Riggen
Antonio Banderas, Rodrigo Santoro, Juliette Binoche
Release Date
13 November 2015
Steve’s Grade: C+

Patricia Riggen’s film attempts to focus on the miners trapped underneath hundreds of tons of rubble, more than 2,000 feet underground, and the families above ground, gathering around the gates of the mine. The families are immediately disgusted with the government’s lackadaisical and stunted response for rescue efforts, with government officials doing what they do best – claiming they care and are doing everything in their power to remedy a situation when they are doing nothing of any significance and making no attempt to reassure or comfort the families of the affected.

To get the problems of The 33 out of the way, to begin with, the film still continues the trend of capturing much of its events in montage, the same trend we’ve seen assist films like The Martian and Pawn Sacrifice this year with telling their large stories in a truncated manner. This film doesn’t encapsulate as much of its events in montage as those films, but it still does enough fast-forwarding to the point where we don’t really get to know the titular thirty-three outside of buzzwords and blanket traits, like the leader is nicknamed “Super Mario” (Antonio Banderas) and there is one miner who is Bolivian that nobody seems to care for. With that, the montage effect is something that is used in films for an understandable reason, but overusing it results in a film that is made up of moments of greatness rather than a big-picture sense of greatness.

Probably the most glaring concern with The 33 is the choice to make the thirty-three Chilean miners English-speakers, undoubtedly a move by touchy studio executives who feared American audiences wouldn’t want to sit through a two hour film and read subtitles (unfortunately, in many cases, they’re probably correct). While it’s not a glaring issue, it’s a bit strange to see the family members, all of whom minor characters in the film, speak equal amounts of Spanish and English when their husbands, brothers, and boyfriends are largely English-speakers in a country where Spanish is the dominant language.

But what The 33 manages to get right is its human focus – a focus placed on acts of survival and cooperation, even when the miners become overnight celebrities. One particularly interesting angle is when the film’s screenwriters – Mikko Alanne, Craig Borten, and Michael Thomas – show Mario’s decision to accept a book deal on the incident for a large sum of money whilst still trapped in the mine. In addition, we see coffee mugs, t-shirts, and posters being sold that advertise the thirty-three survivors outside of the mine itself. These are the fine details that make The 33, a film that despite its miraculous true story sometimes feels like a cliche Hollywood parable on courage and keeping faith, a miner winner.