The 33 (2015)

The 33 (2015)
  • Time: 120 min
  • Genre: Biography | Drama | History
  • Director: Patricia Riggen
  • Cast: Cote de Pablo, Rodrigo Santoro, Antonio Banderas, Juliette Binoche


Based on the real-life event, when a gold and copper mine collapses, it traps 33 miners underground for 69 days.


  • “That’s a big rock. That’s not a rock. That’s the heart of the mountain. She finally broke.”

    “The 33” is impressive, unnerving, claustrophobic and touching at the same time. But at the same time also a bit superficial. The true story of a mine disaster in Chile which happened in 2010. This disaster got a lot of media attention. The entire world witnessed the rescue operation in which all the unfortunate miners were brought back to the surface. One aspect of the movie is hereby nullified. There won’t be a surprising denouement. Anyone who follows the media a bit, knows how it ends. One fact amazed me though. How is it possible that precisely in this group the kind of colorful archetypes were present? It seemed as if the group was deliberately composed in such a way that it would be the ideal company to make a film about, the moment something went wrong. What a coincidence.

    The group is a hodgepodge of poor devils, risking their lives for a pittance on a daily base. Only the mine owners are the ones getting filthy rich. Of course, the following types were present. First, we have an old-timer on the verge of retirement. Next an alcoholic who’ll get the most rigorous detox. Luckily there’s a priest among them to support him. Of course there’s also a father-to-be. And then you have two individuals who are completely different when it comes to character traits. Mario (Antonio Banderas) is the epitome of positivism and believes in salvation from the first minute. And Don Lucho (Lou Diamond Phillips) is the one who gives up hope the moment they discover that all emergency exits are fake and they are trapped like rats. I expected the latter to sing an underground version of “La Bamba” in order to keep their morale high.

    The moment disaster strikes, the film takes place at two locations, with groups fighting their own battle. First the topsoil. Those left behind struggle against those responsible for the mine, because they don’t have the intention to undertake a rescue attempt. Those relatives also try to get this mine disaster on the political agenda of the Chilean Government. A representative of the Government, Laurence Golborne (Rodrigo Santoro), cares about what happened with these poor miners and launches an international rescue operation. And secondly those who are stuck in the mine and who struggle against hardships, their buddies and most of all themselves.

    The film succeeds in outlining the situation in a proper manner. The hope to find a way out and the despair that strikes when all alleged emergency exits of “the refuge” appear to be unusable, because of the lack of food and the malfunctioning communication. An intriguing picture of the hardships endured by these 33 miners. Unfortunately it became rather superficial after they got stuck there. A missed opportunity in my opinion. They could dig deeper (euh…) into the personal lives of these gold diggers. Who were they? And what about their family life? All we get to see are a group of brave persons in deplorable conditions. And above them there’s a race going on between several firms hoping to score a publicity stunt. They just need to be the first one who can provide a way out.

    “The 33” seems like an exciting documentary. A disaster film that takes place deep underground. But despite the big names and the miraculous rescue (surviving two months on a ration of a few days), it remains a typical disaster movie. Exaggerated special effects were shunned and the “we-won’t-give-up” feeling was omnipresent. But it could have been more. The depth those unfortunate 33 men were trapped in was significantly (about 700 meters). However, in general the content of the film was little.

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  • Mining is a dangerous business. Going deep underground to dig minerals out of the earth means subjecting yourself to extreme heat, back-breaking work and the inhalation of dust that can lead to the pulmonary disease of silicosis. If none of these kill you slowly, the mine itself can kill you quickly and without warning. Miners die from accidents caused by their equipment, gas leaks and explosions and, of course, sudden collapses of the rock surrounding them. All told, this difficult work kills thousands of miners every year (as many as 12,000 by one count). These facts and statistics are brought to life in the true story of the 2010 Chilean copper-gold mine collapse portrayed in the drama “The 33” (PG-13, 2:07).

    The film opens with a retirement party for one miner who is about to complete 45 years of service to the private company that owns and operates the San José mine near Copiapó, Chile. Several of his long-time co-workers are at the party with their families. Their is shift foreman Luis “Don Lucho” Urzúa (Lou Diamond Phillips), experienced miner and natural leader Mario Sepúlveda (Antonio Banderas), father-to-be Álex Vega (Mario Casas) and Elvis Presley-loving miner Edison Peña (Jacob Vargas), among others.

    On the morning of August 5, 2010, these men took the long and winding truck ride three miles into the mine, completely unaware that they were about to become victims of one of the worst mining disasters in Chile’s history. Luis saw it coming, but the safety concerns that he expressed to the mine’s manager went unheeded. That afternoon, a rock the height of the Empire State Building and the width of two of them fell into the mine, trapping 33 men inside. Seeing the devastating cave-in and its effects on the men and their surroundings, it seems like a miracle that none of the 33 died in the initial collapse. Although some would say that the real miracle would be if no one died in mining accidents, or at least if this collapse had occurred during off-duty hours, rather than the miners having to get trapped and suffer, while their families waited in agony for news about the fate of their loved ones.

    It was those families who became the impetus for a full-on rescue attempt. Although Chile’s President (Bob Gunton) is reluctant to get his government involved with an accident at a privately-owned mine, his new Minister of Mining, Laurence Golborne (Rodrigo Santoro) convinces President Piñera to let him go to the site and see what he can do. The families, led by María Segovia (Juliette Binoche), the estranged sister of trapped miner Darío Segovia (Juan Pablo Raba), had gathered outside the locked gates of the mining complex. These siblings, wives, mothers, fathers and friends demanded action, and action they got. In spite of the prevailing opinion that the miners were probably dead or would die long before they could be rescued, Minister Golborne brings in heavy-duty drills and works with renowned mining expert André Sougarret (Gabriel Byrne) to try and reach the miners before it’s too late. Meanwhile, the miners ration food and try to keep each other’s spirits up, even as several of them fight and suffer from various medical conditions, as hope fades that they will ever see their families again.

    “The 33” is exceptional. Based on the book “Deep Down Dark” by Héctor Tobar, the film version takes few liberties with the facts and fashions a very compelling narrative. The screenplay succinctly, but effectively sets the stage and develops its characters – both above and below ground. We feel the desperation of both the miners and their families. As the miners’ story unfolds, concurrently with that of their families and those attempting to rescue them, Patricia Riggens directs with great pacing (which is helped by nearly perfect editing). She also gets great performances from her cast and blends the talents and experience of well-known and little-known actors wonderfully. Although the movie did drag a little as it neared its dramatic conclusion, this is a film which tells its story with drama, sensitivity and even some humor and makes it relatable to anyone who ever came to the aid of someone in trouble. “A”

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