Review: THE 33

By Mark Saldana

Rating: 2.5 (Out of 4 Stars)

The 2010 Copiapo mining accident was a frightening ordeal that should have killed the thirty-three miners trapped underground for over two months.  During the course of their cave-in and rescue attempts, the world was captivated by this story and sat on edge the entire time, hoping and praying for their survival.  The fact that they managed to remain alive long enough to be discovered and rescued is a miraculous and inspiring story that deserves a grand cinematic treatment.  Unfortunately, the movie treatment they received, though still inspiring, suffers from unnecessary melodrama, dawdling pacing, and a lack of respect for the language spoken in Chile.  

Antonio Banderas stars as Mario Sepulveda, leader of the 33 Chilean miners.  Thursday, August 5, 2010 should have been another routine, but grueling day in the San Jose copper-gold mine.  The century-old mine has already been under much scrutiny, as geological experts had already deemed it unstable.  Despite the warnings of foreman Luis “Don Lucho” Urzua (Lou Diamond Phillips), the company’s boss demands that business carry on as usual.  As predicted, the mine caves in trapping the 33 miners 2,300 feet underground.  Galvanized by the relatives of the miners, the Chilean government launches a rescue attempt that would last for weeks.  Meanwhile, the trapped miners have to summon up their strength and courage, and ration their limited resources to survive until they can be rescued.

Based on the book Deep Down Dark by Hector Tobar, The 33 does have its share of legitimately apprehensive and harrowing moments, and still delivers an incredible story.  Adapted by writers Mikko Alanne, Craig Borgen, Michael Thomas, Jose Rivera, and directed by Patricia Riggen, the movie has a superb production, an exceptional cast, but is held back its troubled script, and the heavy-handed attempts by the filmmakers and producers to make the film more palatable for American audiences for greater commercial returns.  That last criticism refers to the silly and unnecessary use of the English language in a country where Spanish is the primary language.

This problem gets accentuated by the various Spanish accents (natural and affected) spoken throughout the film.  The language and its delivery through these accents is rather distracting and certainly took me out of the story.  In addition to this, the fact that the writers chose to add some melodrama and sappiness to an already dramatic and exciting story bewildered me to no end.  The story of these miners, and the heroic efforts of everyone who helped rescue them, does not need any additional false drama added to make it more interesting!  This unnecessary addition to the story, along with some slow-moving sequences wastes too much time and slows the pace.

The cast, which mostly consists of a who’s who of Hispanic and Latino actors, deliver solid performances, with a few exceptions here and there.  Antonio Banderas, Rodrigo Santoro, Juan Pablo Raba, Tenoch Huerta, Kate del Castillo and Cote de Pablo are definite stand-outs in the movie.  The movie also features Juliette Binoche, Bob Gunton, Lou Diamond Phillips, and Gabriel Byrne as Chilean characters.  Some of the actors actually pull this off nicely (Binoche, Byrne), but the others struggle a bit (Phillips, Gunton).

Though I have no problem with actors of other ethnicities/cultures portraying characters from totally different backgrounds, I still have to call them out whenever they falter. Nevertheless, some of the casting choices is symptomatic of the attempts of the filmmakers to commercialize this movie for greater box office returns.  The problem with that is that it robs the movie of its authenticity and almost shows a little bit of disrespect for the language and culture of the real people that inspired the film.  I strongly feel that the truly incredible story about the survival of the miners and their rescue didn’t need any additional embellishments and special packaging to serve to the masses.  They had already captured the hearts of the world back in 2010 and deserve to be honored appropriately.




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