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Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews

The 33 | Antonio Banderas, Lou Diamond Phillips, Juliette Binoche, Bob Dunton, Rodrigo Santoro, Mario Casas, Juan Pablo Raba, Don Francisco, Gabriel Byrne, James Brolin | Review

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Jacqueline  Monahan

Las Vegas Round The Clock
Jacqueline Monahan is an educator for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
She is also an entertainment reporter for
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The 33 | Antonio Banderas, Lou Diamond Phillips, Juliette Binoche, Bob Dunton, Rodrigo Santoro, Mario Casas, Juan Pablo Raba, Don Francisco, Gabriel Byrne, James Brolin | Review

The Chilean miners who spent 69 days (August 5 – October 13) underground after a mining accident in 2010 are the subjects (and comprise the count) of The 33, Director Patricia Riggen’s (Under the Same Moon) docudrama about the prolonged incident that captured the world’s attention and sparked a multi-national effort to rescue the men.

Trapped in the copper-and-gold-producing San Jose Mine two hundred stories underground with a three-day food supply and a 720,000 ton rock, twice the size of the Empire State Building, blocking the only entrance/exit, the miners seem doomed in the 90+ degree heat of the Refuge, a classroom-sized space set up to be a type of break room.  The food supply consists of tuna, cookies, and milk, with each man getting about a tablespoon’s worth once a day.  The mood is grim.

Families of the men clash with a non-responsive government, ultimately setting up a type of temporary city to wait for rescue attempts which are slow to kick-start.  The mood is grim – at first.

Ministry of Mining official Laurence Golborne (Rodrigo Santoro) is compelled to agitate Chilean President Sebastian    Piñera (Bob Gunton) into action, but after confirmation of the men’s survival, the rescue effort is stepped-up to include the expertise and technology of Canada, Australia, and U.S. engineer Jeff Hart (James Brolin) among others.

Even the long-running Sabado Gigante’s host Don Francisco makes an appearance as himself to report on rescue efforts as the day count grows higher.

We get to know a few of the miners, from foreman Don Lucho (Lou Diamond Phillips) to unofficial group leader and family man Mario (Antonio Banderas) to expectant father Alex (Mario Casas) to Dario (Juan Pablo Raba) the estranged, alcoholic brother of Maria (Juliette Binoche) a devoted empanada vendor who camps out in tent city hoping for his rescue.  Other men are memorable because of situation – one is about to retire after decades of mining, one is an Elvis impersonator, one is a two-timing husband with both a wife AND a mistress waiting on the surface, and one is a Bolivian that endures overt discrimination.

Unrest in all camps above and below ground simmers while rescue efforts commence.  The men nearly starve and bake in temperatures that hover near 100 F with 98 % humidity.  Food stress and petty jealousies fester.  Displaced families pray and accuse the government of not caring enough.  Golborne encounters technical and political obstacles along the road to retrieval of the men until engineer Andre Sougarret (Gabriel Byrne) offers a glimmer of hope.  The San Jose Mine is discovered to have a record of safety violations amid frequent warnings of geological instability.

You’d think with all of this going on that The 33 would be a hotbed of suspense and tension.  Unfortunately the story itself is more compelling than the film.  Based on the book, Deep Down Dark, by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Héctor Tobar, director Riggen relies on formulaic situations, scattered editing, and awkward humor throughout The 33 that take it from compelling to oddly mediocre, a collection of events to be witnessed without emotional investment.  Phillips and Banderas are admirably effective in their roles given the multitude of underdeveloped characters they are required to anchor.

After promising early sequences of the claustrophobic tunnels of the mine, the catastrophic collapse of its roof, and the hopelessness of the trapped men, the film centers dispassionately on the efforts of the outside world to free them.  In doing so it becomes almost tedious until the rescue effort finally yields the first man which initiates the resulting family reunions.  A final shot of all 33 survivors (the real guys) on a beach is even more satisfying, just not enough.

If there is poignancy to be found, it is in the end credits memorializing composer James Horner who died in a plane crash this past June.

 Puzzling casting choices in Gabriel Byrne (Irish) Juliette Binoche (French) and Bob Gunton (American) as Chilean nationals serve as distractions amid the plot points, although Binoche struggles a good deal less than the others with her accented dialogue.

The 33 is a depiction of an extraordinary event delivered in an ordinary way, with the excellence of the source material surpassing its execution to the big screen.  It’s an adequate, “okay” handling of a miraculous true-life event, one chock full of emotion, conflict, survival, and triumph.

And that’s just not okay.

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