In 2010 the world was listening for signs of life, deep within the Chilean desert, for a group of miners trapped beneath the earth. In one of more than 800 mines which are used to find copper and gold, 33 men spent 69 days trapped in a shelter 2000 feet below the ground after a mine collapse. 90 degree weather, scarce amounts of food and light, and the possibility of another collapse within their safe haven could have happened, but today the men, all 33, are grateful to have survived the ordeal.
This incredible story, which 1 billion people watched live unfold towards their eventual rescue, has been turned into a movie, aptly titled “The 33”. At the helm is Mexican film director Patricia Riggen, known for films such as 2007’s “Under the Same Moon” and 2012’s “Girl in Progress”.
“The 33” is based on the only official book backed by the miners, Deep Down Dark by Mexican author Héctor Tobar.
In the lead roles, among many others, are Antonia Banderas as the charismatic leader of the trapped miners Mario Sepúlveda, Coté de Pablo (a Chilean-American actress and singer) as the grieving pregnant wife of one of the miners, and Juliette Binoche, the French actress who arguably plays a miners Chilean sister really well.
The basics of the film are of a survival story, and the different aspects of the ordeal, from within the group of miners deep down in the earth, to the people on ground, from the families, the protests against the government’s rescue timeline, and the actual physics of rescuing the men in the mine.
In just over 2 hours we are treated to a lot of information, a lot of emotion but ultimately nothing we haven’t experienced before. To be honest the final shot is the most captivating and it’s in essence its own vignette. It’s not to say that the film is not strong through its duration, as mentioned the build up of emotion and a country’s collective efforts to support and speak for the miners is unmeasurable.
In 2010 the Chilean government was doing damage control in real life after the Chilean earthquake and tsunami just months before the mining disaster. Their reputation hinged on wether or not they could pull their resources and rescue their citizens from the mine.
The mine in question, the ‘San Jose Mine’, was owned by the cash-strapped San Esteban Primera Mining Company, who was notorious for breaking safety protocols and generally providing unsafe working conditions. This is all evident in the film as scenarios unfold right from the start where the shift foreman, “Don Lucho” Urzúa (played by Lou Diamond Phillips), believes a cave-in could occur but obviously a ‘don’t worry about it’ stance is taken by another manger. Some ‘get back to work’’s are thrown out after this.
The miners in the film, just like in real life, find out right after the disaster, the mining company again fails at simple safety features even within the shelter meant to house proper amounts of food, a radio, and a ladder within escape shaft. You find out the state of each of these pretty soon into it.
The dynamics of the characters within the mine is the most interesting, as they each have their own demons and strengths to deal with while trapped in what they fear could be their last shift. Juliette Binoche’s brother is an alcoholic, Antonio Banderas is a hot head (but a leader nonetheless), and the others kind of come and go. There isn’t a lot of screen time to flesh out all 33, so here and there we get little tidbits, genuinely funny moments and a lot of despair.
Its not to say the film is a depressing romp, as its not. In the end the community spirit and perseverance of the men and their families above shines a bright light in the way of human compassion.
“The 33” is both a study on survival and faith, and a look into a historical event in a pretty realistic manner. There are moments where you wonder if it could’ve actually gone the way it did but in the end it’s simple as this: ALL 33 miners trapped 2,000 feet below the surface in hot, humid conditions were able to survive 69 days, all without killing each other as well.
Recently the 33 men went to watch the film premiere at Vatican City and met with Pope Francis. This was fitting given their determination and their religious strength that allowed them to survive the ordeal in the mine.
It’s a good film with good cinematography, a disaster movie that plays it safe but get emotional, and worth watching on the big screen to find out how exactly these 33 men survive.