Directed by Patricia Riggen. Produced by Robert Katz, Edward McGurn, and Mike Medavoy. Written by Mikko Alanne, Craig Borten, and Michael Thomas. Release date: November 13, 2015.
It was all the way back in 2010 that the world’s attention was turned on a mine in Chile, where 33 miners were trapped after the mine caved in. The 33, as you may have guessed from its title, is an attempt to turn their story into a feature-length narrative film. I only say “attempt” because that’s what it feels like. It’s a try and not a particularly good one. When a film uses real-life archival footage from the various news outlets that covered the story, and that’s when it’s at its best, that isn’t a good sign.
At its core, The 33 is a survival drama that follows both the fight for survival for its miners as well as the rescue efforts from those above ground. That sounds like it might work on paper, but as filmed by director Patricia Riggen, it comes across as a, well, disaster. The underground survival involves a lot of waiting around and eating rations, while the attempts to rescue the miners – the main members of whom are not played by Chileans, which is a missed opportunity – are repetitive and not in the least bit tense. Even without being intimately familiar with the story, you’ll be able to determine exactly what’s going to happen, as the film is far too reliant on formula, likely because the real-life story doesn’t fit well into a traditional cinematic narrative.
For instance, of the 33 miners, only about six of them get a personality, and they’re personalities you’ll recognize from any other survival movie ever. They are: the family man and born leader, the foreman who knew better but did nothing, a man whose wife is pregnant, a man who’s just a couple of weeks from retirement, a man who is a drunk and has ruined his personal life, the foreigner, and one whose sole identifying factor is that he likes impersonating Elvis. Okay, so the last one isn’t particularly common, but the rest of them? You know the path they’re going to take as soon as they’re introduced because they rely that heavily on tropes.
You’ll be hard-pressed to remember who anyone is beyond “Super” Mario, anyway, as he becomes the one who makes all the important decisions, and also because he’s played by Antonio Banderas, so there’s some recognition there. The rest of them? Sorry, but whenever they showed up on-screen, I had to wait for dialogue cues to remind me of which character we were watching at any given moment. Let’s put it this way: when, right before the credits, the real-life miners show up so we can learn that they’re all still friends, none of their in-movie characters have left any impression; I couldn’t recognize any of them.
Failing as a drama, comedy, thriller, and disaster movie, The 33 has almost nothing to offer audience members.
To try to keep things interesting – since it automatically fails as a drama because it lacks any characters for us to care about – The 33 splits its time between attempting to be a typical disaster movie, which means we get dialogue like “That’s not a rock! It’s the heart of the mountain!!!” which, like many lines in the film, is delivered in such an over-the-top manner that you can’t take it even remotely seriously. Whenever things look like they’re going to succeed, they don’t, at least for a little bit. That’s how the filmmakers try to generate suspense, which winds up being laughable since you can predict the exact points when it all goes wrong. If you want to entertain yourself, keep track of how close you get when making those predictions. I got within ten seconds. And don’t even get me started when the miners attempt to alienate one of their members because he was offered a book deal – as we’re watching a movie based on their story. Not that it matters, since they make up within five minutes and the tension between them doesn’t come back into play for the rest of the film.
The other thing it does is attempt to make us laugh. Yes, the miners are in a literal life-or-death situation that has a “less than 1%” chance of turning out okay, but when you can’t make us care about individual miners or even make their situation even remotely tense, you may as well try to make light of it. There are two recurring jokes in The 33. The first revolves around marital infidelity – one of the miners has a wife and a mistress, and they don’t get along (hilarious!) – and the other is about racism – there’s a Bolivian among the Chileans, and they insult him because he’s Bolivian (also hilarious!). There’s also this out-of-place fantasy sequence that is supposed to relate itself to The Last Supper, but is played totally for laughs, goes on for far too long, and doesn’t match the tone of the rest of the film at all. What were the filmmakers thinking?
Meanwhile, there’s a little bit of effort spent making us aware of how exploited miners are, but only a little bit. That political intrigue could have helped The 33‘s case, but since almost no attention winds up being paid toward it, it feels tacked-on instead. The informative cards at the end tell us that the miners received no compensation for what happened to them, and that this is an injustice – and it’s telling us this with the miners all taking turns smiling and the happiest music one could find playing in the background. It’s just baffling.
Failing as a drama, comedy, thriller, and disaster movie, The 33 has almost nothing to offer audience members. Over the course of its two-hour running time, it fails to offer more than a single character whose name you’ll remember, gives us cheesy dialogue, terrible attempts at humor, no tension, and a tacked-on attempt to make it feel like it wants to be about the injustice of the situation not just for these miners, but for miners all throughout Chile. It has the emotional depth of watching someone play Super Mario Bros. 2 and seeing Mario get sucked down a pipe, not knowing if they’ll be able to get him back to the surface.
Bottom Line: The 33 is a disaster of a movie, but not in a good way, or in the way its filmmakers hoped. The 33 is a dull movie that adheres to formula and fails to entertain or make us care.
Recommendation: Skip The 33 and just read about the story online. You’ll save time and you won’t have to watch this failure.[rating=1]