Title: The 33
Director: Patricia Riggen
Major Players: Antonio Banderas, Juliette Binoche, Lou Diamond Phillips
Out Of Five: 3
It was only a matter of time before the story of the Chilean miners made it to the big screen. In 2010, it was the story that transfixed an international audience: no matter what news channel you were watching, their rescue was there, getting wall to wall coverage. Trapped down a gold and copper mine in the Atacama desert, they were eventually brought to the surface, one by one, in a specially made capsule. After 69 days underground.
So it’s a recent story, one that everybody knows and, while their survival was miraculous, it’s one that poses a problem for its director, Patricia Riggen. How does she keep the audience’s attention when the ending is so well known? In the case of The 33, it’s difficult, because while the actual rescue took place there was the sense of participating in an international event, a powerful collective feeling that everybody wanted the miners to survive. And the film simply can’t compete with that.
Instead, it takes a very straightforward approach, showing us the three contrasting groups of people involved. The miners underground, covered in dirt in their dimly-lit space. Their families waiting above ground for them in the brilliant sunshine of Camp Hope. And the government officials who take over the rescue, leaving the comparative luxury of their buildings in Santiago.
Inevitably there’s a focus on a handful of characters to represent each group. A lot of the miners are just numbers when the credits roll but among them are Antonio Banderas’ Mario, the natural leader and Lou Diamond Phillips’ company man, who knew the mountain was dodgy and kept telling his boss so. And perhaps the best known of the 33 to the outside world in real life, Yoni Barrios, played by Oscar Nunez, whose love live was a gift to the tabloids. He was the one who alternated between two women, and was welcomed by just one of them when he arrived back on the surface. His mistress. There’s inevitably a composite character, never an easy role, and in this case Juan Pablo Raba as the alcoholic Dario Segovia has bitten off more than he can chew.
Among the families, it’s Maria (Juliette Binoche), Dario’s estranged sister, who’s the driving force. Presumably the makers wanted another known name to display alongside Banderas so the film would have an international appeal because, in all honesty, it’s not a role that demands an actress of her calibre. There’s also Jessica (NCIS’s Cote de Pablo), heavily pregnant while her man is trapped below ground and about to give birth at any moment. And she has little to do apart from give our heartstrings the occasional tug.
The glowing light shining on the families is tinged with schmaltz, yet there’s another side to their story and Camp Hope itself that we never really see, apart from one solitary glimpse. Originally something of a rag-bag, the camp becomes well established with assistance from government minister Rodrigo Santoro (Laurence Golborne). There’s a school and medical facilities and, as the camera moves down one of the dust tracks, a stall selling T-shirts emblazoned with pictures of the miners. Whether the proceeds go to the families we can’t tell, but it prompts memories of Billy Wilder’s Ace In The Hole (1951), an infinitely more cynical piece of work but also with somebody trapped underground at its centre. In that film, the world above the mine turns into a money-making circus. At least here you feel that they really do care about the miners – and that even includes President Pinera (Bob Gunton) who doesn’t miss a trick when it comes to projecting a positive image for Chile throughout the whole rescue.
Despite a decent performance from Banderas and uncomfortably sweaty scenes down the mine, this well-intentioned film keeps you at arms’ length and leaves you with the sense that there are other stories to be told. It may start out as a cause-related film – the opening captions tell us that 12,000 miners are killed every year in accidents – but that impetus soon fizzles out. Some of the miners have prospered since their experience, others are as poor as they ever were and, if reports of legal disputes over the rights to their stories are to be believed, their story will run and run. The same, unfortunately, can’t really be said for the film.
The 33 is released in cinemas on Friday, 29 January and reviewed on Talking Pictures on Thursday, 28 January.