For 69 days, 33 Chilean miners were buried below ground in the hot, dark and suffocating San José mine. They had little food and no way to contact anyone on the surface, but the workers banded together, forming a democratic approach to survival. Meanwhile, 700 meters above, they had no idea the Chilean government, with help from other countries and NASA, was aligned in an international rescue mission to reach the men, supplying them with food and equipment to talk to their families before finally extracting them out.
Patricia Riggen’s retelling isn’t particularly inspired or inspiring. The film exaggerates an already unlikely story, generalizing a unique political climate and transforming multi-faceted individuals into broad character types. The 33 is a hyper-hyper-real film of a hyper-real event; the story was already mediated by news coverage and what the miners have decided to disclose.
The film barely considers the role of Christianity in maintaining the miners’ sanity, the political motivations behind the intervention in this particular accident, or the lack of responsibility taken by the company to compensate the miners. Instead, it simply traces the rescue mission beneath and above the ground, glorifying the collective camaraderie without challenging any status-quos. This story realizes our desire for an ideal world: underdogs win, prayers are answered, and the collective human spirit bands together for the greatest good. It exists within a vacuum utopia where hopes and aspirations perfectly align with future experiences and reality.You can leave feeling good without questioning some of the more problematic and infuriating aspects of this story. After all, no one makes movies about dead miners. The 33 has no unique perspective, only well-tread clichés.
The film is whitewashed, anglicized, and safely designed to pander without any complex emotions. Some of the casting choices, especially Gabriel Byrne as a Chilean engineer in charge of the rescue mission and Bob Gunton as the country’s president, feel horribly out of place, nothing more than movie stars playing dress up. The English dialogue, which all the characters deliver with thick but comprehensible accents, is frustratingly inconsistent (there is a moment when a women sings a song in Spanish. Can anyone understand it?). Familiar types – a soon-to-be-father, the leader, the newbie etc. – strip the characters of any relatable and realistic dimensions while undercutting the collectivist message. Where the miners took a very democratic approach to survival, this film’s narrative is more geocentric, mostly revolving around one miner, Antonio Banderas’ “Super Mario” as the mastermind behind the group’s survival. Instead of challenging the myth of self-determination (no miner made it through because of one other person), The 33 caters to expectations. It cheats its own theme and the miner’s telling of their own story.
If there is any light in this abyss of a film, it’s Riggen’s visual styling. A beam of heavenly light that pokes through when a drill bit first makes contact, the contrasts between the mine’s shadows and the bright sun above ground, and a thrilling action set-piece when the mountain collapses, are evocative flourishes in an otherwise mediocre movie.
Sensationalized by the media, our own imagination and even the miners themselves, the 2010 Copiapó Mining Accident was a better Hollywood movie before it actually became one. Motives are not excavated and the working conditions miners endure in Chile are not unearthed. The 33 barely breaks any ground on its subject.