The 33 dramatizes the events that took place in Chile back in 2010. 33 miners become trapped deep underground following a mine collapse. With only three days worth of supplies, it seems unlikely that they’re going to survive their ordeal. From this 33, Mario (Antonio Banderas) emerges as a leader, and he does everything he can to keep his compatriots alive. Meanwhile, on the surface, the families of the 33 hold out hope and pressure the government to stage a rescue. The film also follows minister of mines Laurence Golborne (Rodrigo Santoro) as he attempts to do the impossible and save these miners.
The first compromise the movie makes in telling this story is immediately evident: everyone’s talking in English. The film then calls attention to this choice by having the actors speak in vaguely Latin-accented speech. This becomes problematic right from the start, and it highlights the hazy priorities of the film. There is a distinct attempt to shape this story into a mainstream form, into something that resembles a big Hollywood picture. The result is broad and uninteresting, in spite of the compelling nature of these true events.
The movie struggles to find a focal point for the narrative. Right away, in the opening minutes of the movie, the movie scatters its attention in an awkwardly scripted party scene that has many of the characters stating all of their eventual conflicts out loud. It’s clear right from the very start that the script is biting off more than it can chew, setting up little narrative threads that have little chance of getting the focus that they need to be resolved properly. The film continues in this way, drifting from issue to issue without really exploring what it all means.
The film feels a little too careful. It seems to balk at really studying the failures that led to those miners becoming stuck underground. It’s a little too cautious in depicting the shortcomings of the government in their rescue efforts. It doesn’t do enough to shed light on the failures of this mining company, and the consequences of their actions. The film only seeks to be celebratory, and while there is plenty to celebrate in this story, there is so much more that is left unexplored. But the film seems mostly to concern itself with petty things as the film gets deeper into the narrative, playing on conflicts and tension that seem trivial when put up against the systemic failures that led to this problem in the first place.
The film does get a lot out of the location shooting. The cave location adds a lot to the experience, and the movie gains something from the contrast between the confines of the inner space and the grand openness of the outside. Performances are hindered by the choice in language and accent. Great actors like Juliette Binoche and Gabriel Byrne look lost while trying to compensate for the way of speaking. Antonio Banderas suffers least from the handicap, since he basically speaks that way anyway. But he hams it up to a degree that is distracting.
The 33 just doesn’t have a whole lot to say about what these men went through. It doesn’t linger on any one conflict long enough to really explore the ramifications of the event. The film is content with just saying that these men made it out alive, and we should be happy for that. But we already experienced that happiness once before, when this event actually happened. Going back to this story requires something more. The film tries to distract with the small personal dramas of these miners, and ends up doing a disservice to their story. It’s all just empty uplift in the end.