The 33 (2015)

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“We may be looking at a weakness in the mountain’s internal structure.”

In the context of real-life events, the Chilean Miner’s Rescue of 2010 was a global phenomenon which led to an outreaching and overwhelming media spectacle, hoping for a good end to a bad story. The thing about The 33 is that, despite the weight of its own collapsing rock, the film lacks sheer force, displaying about as much gravity as a Zero-G training facility. While as clear a humanity versus nature and pitting of powers film as you’re likely to see on-screen, and one of the many already released this year, it’s hard to personalize or connect to either side. The mine has already been emptied by these exhausted characters. The 33 wants to fight the good fight against the elements, yet only periodically does so successfully.

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Unremarkable in the plainest sense of the word, The 33 confuses its compelling survival tale for one of middling melodrama and surface dwelling drama. Everything begins low-key enough with the individuals we’ll come to know gathered for a cookout. Few of them are memorable, although we familiarize ourselves with their faces, so when they travel down the opposite direction of the light at the end of the tunnel we at least recognize their joint plight. Throughout their stay 200 stories beneath the surface, the men become lost – both figuratively and literally – to the mountain’s crumbling heartbreak. You’ll want to care about these men because they are human and so are you. And just when you try, we’re sucked back above ground, surrounded by filler inspired by mid-morning soap operas. Even the miners in this fictional recounting are buried beneath a confused hoopla.

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The 33 director Patricia Riggen assembled an impressive cast, headlined by Antonio Banderas as Mario Sepúlveda. Banderas can be an overpowering actor in ensemble pieces due to lack of control, but he never lacks conviction, and this solid performance is no exception from either of those descriptions. The film’s rounded out by Rodrigo Santoro, Lou Diamond Phillips, as well as the curious choice of Juliette Binoche. The French actress has the resume but not the mass appeal to draw crowds through her name alone, making her casting as a Chilean woman disappointingly lacking creativity and diversity. Binoche is one of the best, but it’s hard to refute the fact that she just doesn’t fit in or believably mesh with the rest of the cast.

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Riggen’s conflicted film is serious and stupid, backbreaking and easy. Treats are about as prevalent as the rations for the miners. Though, when they do arrive they are welcomed with open arms and hungry hearts. Some decent yet cheap tricks are utilized to generate the massive scale of the mountain comparable to an underground and man-made ant hill. The problem is that the film becomes clinical and impersonal, glossing over and cutting away from the emotional havoc of being untimely entombed. Worth mentioning is a lone scene which averts that crisis, showing the men during their last meal. In a hunger-induced state of paranoia, the figments of their own imaginations come into play while all eating the same quarter cup of food. They see their actual last meal of choice and the women who cooked it, and the stylistic decision shows personality and previously unseen depth. However, that level of inspiration is only temporary. The 33, a benign take on a stage 4 story of calamity, can be watched as easily as it can be forgotten.

“Sometimes impossible situations can take a little longer.”

Rating: 2.5 out of 5

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