Movie Review: ‘The 33’
Special to the Tribune
Directed By Patricia Riggen
Starring Juliette Binoche, Antonio Banderas, Lou Diamond Phillips, Rodrigo Santoro, Gabriel Byrne, James Brolin
Warner Bros., Rated PG-13, Drama, 120 minutes
In 2010, my husband and I were among those riveted by the plight of 33 Chilean copper miners. We anxiously waited for news of whether they were dead or alive deep inside the collapsed 121-year-old San Jose copper mine. On the 17th day, a several inch wide drill bit bore a hole into their refuge, revealing that all 33 trapped miners were alive and well. A miracle! The question became how and when they might be rescued.
Adapted from the book “Deep Down Dark,” by journalist Hector Tobar, “The 33” tells their story, within the limited confines of a two-hour film.
The film’s opening, set at a barbecue honoring an elderly miner on the cusp of retirement, introduces those destined to play key roles in the survival of all 33. The following day, we watch them climb aboard a truck for a one-hour ride through the spiraling mine, to reach a work area, 2300 feet down.
The ride alone is a stomach churner — the sense of dread increases when shift captain Don Lucho (Lou Diamond Phillips), examines shards of glass made by the mountain’s movement, from whole pieces of glass implanted in its cracked walls to measure the mine’s stability.
Miners welding huge drills can’t hear the initial pops and crackles that precede a cave-in — exquisitely recreated by director Patricia Riggen. The mine collapses in a protracted sequence of rooms and tunnels that crumble in turn like dominoes falling. With the miners remaining one step ahead of the collapse, we allow ourselves to hope some of them will escape.
What follows are parallel stories. One chronicles the trapped miners’ struggles to remain sane. They dare to hope for a rescue, largely due to the effectiveness of Mario (Antonio Banderas), a charismatic, natural born leader who persuades everyone to ration their small store of food and remain optimistic.
Up top, the miners’ determined relatives press San Jose mine management to launch a rescue — but the owners think the expense to be prohibitive.
Eventually, the visionary Chili’s Minister of Mines launches a heroic attempt to first locate the miners, then save them.
Intercut with international news accounts, the film manages to create an atmosphere of urgency and hope, only to repeatedly throw up obstacles that dash belief in the success of this rescue.
While the film reveals fewer details about the miners’ struggle than we might wish, the information portrayed is telling.
Since the miners were never remunerated by the mine for their losses or psychological injuries, it’s gratifying to know that all 33 are paid contributors to “Deep Down Dark,” and this film adaptation.
Americans can be proud of the Pennsylvania drilling rig and crew, one of three from different nations. Australia and Canada sent the most advanced drills and were therefore favored to succeed, but unlike their operators, who dismantled their rigs and went home when obstacles arose, our American team found a way to prevail. Also, the capsule built by Chili’s Navy was design-dependent upon the detailed configuration provided by 20 NASA experts.
In another demonstration of American know-how, Oakley gave each miner a pair of $400 sunglasses to protect their eyes as they emerged from the mine. Coverage of Oakley’s contribution is estimated to have garnered the company the equivalent of $41 million dollars in advertising. Americans strive to be both capitalists and humanitarians. No wonder the world’s investors love our stock market.