The 33 review: tense clichés in Chilean mining drama

26th January 2016

The 33 Antonio Banderas 1

It was tense, captivating and almost inconceivable. Indeed, the Chilean Mine Collapse of 2010 in which 33 workers, trapped for some 10 weeks in a gold mine under thousands of metres of rock, were all rescued is almost unbelievable. It was only a matter of time, therefore, before Hollywood capitalised on it for cinematic gain. Not without its flaws and with a corn factor turned up to 11, The 33 directed by Patricia Riggen captures the nail-biting essence of this real-world event in an entertaining and ultimately feel-good flick.

Documenting the 69 – torturous – days spent in a five-metre-squared refuge chamber at the base of a mine, The 33 marks the experiences of the Chilean miners, and the pain-staking efforts and the unbelievable odds faced by the government in attempting to rescue them. Having to survive on an extremely limited food supply, tensions run high as all the miners can do is hope, pray and wait until the authorities are able to reach them. It is a film of almost toxic masculinity, as you might expect from 33 burly miners all crammed together like the tin of sardines they are forced to meticulously ration to stay alive. Yet as the 33 escape, broken, beaten and considerably less burly, they emerge not only with their lives but as brothers bound together by their ordeal.

The 33 Antonio Banderas 2

For the most part the cast give a set of credible performances, especially Antonio Banderas, who's at the helm as the charismatic, natural leader, Mario. Juliette Binoche is unfortunately ill-cast as Maria Segovia, the older sister of one of the miners. A romantic subplot between her and Laurence Golborne, the minister for mining played capably by Rodrigo Santoro, felt clunky and frankly unnecessary to the story. In many respects, an actor’s performance is only as good as the screenplay they are presented with. In this case, writers Mikko Alanne, Craig Borten and Michael Thomas have given a rather feeble and clichéd effort, holding the performers back and somewhat dulling the central focus.

Whilst lacklustre lines are at the core of the film’s script problems it is the perplexing decision to stage the film in English which jars the most. In a thinly veiled attempt to appeal to a wider audience, the lack of subtitles is a disappointing cap on what is already a reasonably visceral film. Not only would it have been a more convincing and frankly better film if shot in Spanish, it would have completely avoided the jumbled hotpot of Spanish sounding accents that the actors bring to the film.

You can’t help but feel that the film is saved by its inherently enthralling material, that as a piece of cinema it is well-made, but cumbersome and middling. Nevertheless, you also can’t help but get caught up in the tension of it all, which only subsides once each and every miner is safely above ground. Winding shots of the mine’s cavernous interior, a great sequence in which the mine collapses and the miners scramble for their lives, and a rousing final rescue scene all amount to a suspenseful and scintillating cinematic experience. Considering the happy ending of this infamous and recent event is so widely known, it is a considerable achievement to keep an audience so continually in suspense in spite of it.

Words by George Washbourn

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