The 33 movie poster
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The 33
The 33 movie poster

The 33 Movie Review

Now available on Blu-ray and DVD (Buy on Amazon)

The survival drama The 33 is wasted potential at its finest, a sappy feel-good drama that will appeal to people who lap up sappy feel-good dramas but leaves the good stuff buried deep underground.

The 33 is about the amazing story you may remember from a few years back--of those 33 Chilean miners who were trapped half a mile underground in an unstable mine, their chances of making it back to the surface miniscule. But after 69 days, they were rescued--thanks to both incredible fortitude by the men below and exceptional determinism by those above.

Sadly, director Patricia Riggen squanders this incredible true story by ripping out much of the thrilling, real-life detail and stuffing in fake melodrama, overburdening the movie with cheesy conflict, bad acting and a shocking lack of suspense.

Antonio Banderas is decent as eccentric underground leader Mario Sepúlveda, though his character is stripped down to the stereotypical basics. The rest of the cast is atrocious, though the screenplay and actual casting is as much to blame as the actual actors involved. Brazilian actor Rodrigo Santoro looks lost, though his character is so poorly written you can barely blame him. Why Irishman Gabriel Byrne is in this movie is anyone’s guess, though it is Oscar-winning French actress Juliette Binoche, operating in brownface and primarily screaming “Empanadas” over and over again in a shrill, Chilean accent, who is truly deserving of a Razzie. Not only is her character woefully unnecessary to the film, she is painful to watch and exemplifies just how far afield The 33 really is. At least Lou Diamond Phillips is Filipino.

What I hoped The 33 would be was a thriller, not unlike Paul Greengrass’s United 93, that depicts in procedural efficiency and intensity the many parallel challenges facing both the trapped miners and the rescuers above. Instead, Riggen and a legion of screenwriters dumb things down both above ground and below, leaning too heavily on rudimentary character archetypes and silly interpersonal conflicts and too little on what really happened, which was more impressive than anything shown on screen here.

I’m currently in the middle of the Hector Tobar book “Deep Dark Down,” upon which this movie is based (sent to me as part of the promotional efforts for this movie). Though the basics are translated to the big screen, it’s disappointing how little of the nuance makes it. The film’s depiction of the rescue efforts are especially frustrating, as Riggen opts to focus on the interpersonal dynamics between irrelevant characters versus showing the tremendous efforts that went into pulling 33 men from the depths of hell (many of which are excised entirely). Some of the best depictions, sadly, come when Riggen simply drops real newscasts into her film.

The 33 isn’t without its moments, and for people simply looking for a relatively fast-paced, feel-good movie with a happy ending, it may be enough. But The 33 falls so short in almost every capacity, it’s downright offensive how much potential is wasted.

Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.

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