THE MOVIE GUY: ‘The 33’ is a miner success

Published 11:10 pm Thursday, November 12, 2015

The 2010 Copiapó mine collapse made for riveting television, as viewers around the world watched as rescuers tried to free 33 miners trapped 2,300 feet underground. “The 33,” the movie version of that mine disaster isn’t nearly as intriguing, but there’s still plenty of excitement in this cinematic struggle for survival.

The film opens with a quick introduction to a dozen or so of the miners. Don Lucho (Lou Diamond Phillips) is the foreman who knows that the mine is unsafe but feels powerless to do anything about his work situation. Mario (Antonio Banderas) starts out as just a guy hoping for some extra work, but eventually morphs into the determined leader of the group once the collapse traps the miners in their seemingly hopeless situation.

The collapse is a rather exciting bit of computer-generated trickery. The cinematography is also quite impressive, initially using helmet lamps to transform the men into shaking shafts of light surrounded by acres of menacing darkness. When we do get to see more of the men, they are frequently bathed in a subtle gold light, which makes gives the impression that heaven was watching over their trapped souls.

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Of course there were plenty of people working here on earth to get the men out. We spend time with government officials and rescue personnel, but also the grieving families and the media. Not all of this works because the film is content to mostly paint this story with very broad emotional strokes. The filmmakers are content to slap the audience in the face with on-the-nose emotional moments rather than opting for anything nuanced. Should you be unclear about how you’re supposed to be feeling, James Horner’s musical score swells to remind you of the proper reaction to the scene.

It’s quite manipulative, and certainly unnecessary, given that the story is naturally dramatic and doesn’t require any hand-holding by the filmmakers.

“The 33” ends up being an okay disaster movie that’s blessed with an all-star cast of good actors, interesting locations and competent behind-the-scenes craftsmen. The happy ending (does anybody still need a spoiler alert on this?) also adds to the film’s watchability.  Yet as good as all of these elements are, the screenplay and overall direction make this into little more than a one-dimensional tale of heroism. The filmmakers don’t seem to trust that audiences will get the drama, so they simplify everything into black and white moments that end up feeling artificial.

“The 33” is still an okay film, a minor, or miner treat if you will, but it never quite rises to the point of being a truly rousing drama.

Movie reviews by Sean, “The Movie Guy,” are published bi-weekly in “The Port Arthur News” and seen weekly on KFDM and KBTV. Sean welcomes your comments via email at