DVD Review - The 33

On August 5, 2010, thirty-three men were trapped half-a-mile or 2300 feet underground in the San Jose mine beneath the Atacama Desert in Chile. The men survived for sixty-nine days until October 13 when they were rescued in what was a highly difficult, if not practically impossible feat. This movie adapts those events. Based on the book "Deep Down Dark" by Hector Tobar with a screen story by Jose Rivera and written by Mike Alanne, Craig Borten and Michael Thomas, the movie divides the narrative in half, showing us what's going on below ground and what's going on above ground. Despite the title and the black-and-white, documentary footage at the end, this film short-changes the men below-ground, favoring the people above-ground, ultimately becoming the movie's major fumble.

Realistically, this movie should not have depicted the people above-ground because of all the news coverage at the time. I suppose there are details about how the rescue was affected that are interesting, but essentially it all boils down to drilling an escape hole and pulling the men through it. The details of which and the machinations or politics aren't as compelling.

Last year, Ridley Scott directed The Martian, which is about a person trapped and it being all about survival and endurance. Another recent example is Angelina Jolie's Unbroken. This film wants to be like those survival and endurance films, but how it ping-pongs between the below and above ground kills the immersion one might want or need for a film like this. Cutting away from the below-ground stuff detracts instead of adding to the narrative and emotion.

Even though it would be difficult to weave thirty-three characters into one film, it becomes even less so when the above-ground stuff is given equal, if not more weight. Of thirty-three, the most we get to know is three, which is a poor ratio. It's only 10 percent. It would probably be too much to go for 100 percent, or even 50 percent. A better number would be 30 percent, but we don't get that. In reality, we don't get to know any of the miners, any of the thirty-three.

Director Patricia Riggen also doesn't really make us feel the space in which they're trapped. Riggen gives us no sense of the geography of the underground mine. A computer graphic, 3-D model appears to give us an idea and the people above-ground an idea of the geography, but when we're down in the mine, it's just a dark hole.

It's not like the Oscar-winning film Room (2015), which is also about people trapped in a small space. Even though it's a smaller space, Lenny Abrahamson provides a full understanding of the geography of that place, of what is where. This film provides no clue of the space or the claustrophobia or any of the logistics within the underground mine.

The only issue is the food. Thirty-three men are trapped with no water or toiletries. At least, The Martian acknowledged the smell due to lack of showering. This movie doesn't even do that. Aside from hunger, we get no other sensory experience, and no other conveyance of the discomfort or perhaps the sexual frustration of these men.

Because all the actors are arguably better-looking than their real-life counterparts, any group shots of the shirtless Latinos seem like a Chilean sauna, and no big deal at all. Therefore, if the filmmaker can't make the situation seem urgent or like a big deal or have real danger, than the movie fails. I didn't feel the stakes.

Antonia Banderas is a Spanish actor who I've liked for nearly 30 years, ever since I first saw him in Law of Desire (1987). He gives a great performance as Mario, the lead miner. Rodrigo Santoro is a Brazilian actor who gives a great performance here too, but his character was a detraction.

Two Stars out of Five.
Rated PG-13 for a disaster sequence and some language.
Running Time: 2 hrs. and 7 mins.


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