The 33 

 

Half

 

 

A famous mining disaster in the Atacama desert is the basis for this claustrophobic drama.

 

A mining disaster contains the very stuff of drama: the rescue bid that may or may not succeed, the tensions among the men who are trapped, the anguish of the family members above ground. No wonder, then, that films on this theme have been made and that they range from G.W. Pabst’s classic Kameradschaft (1931) to the small-scale but telling British portrayal in Group 3’s The Brave Don’t Cry (1952). Yet the fact is that such material is tricky to handle effectively on screen. Inevitably the drama is likely to be claustrophobic and establishing in depth characters caught up in this kind of situation can be difficult unless one incorporates flashbacks at the risk of diluting the power of the main narrative. The golden rule is probably to keep it short (neither of the titles mentioned lasted for much more than an hour and a half).
 
And so to The 33, an attempt to recreate a specific disaster in Chile in 2010, which runs for 127 minutes. As the very title indicates thirty three miners were endangered when the San José mine in Copiapó already known to have weaknesses collapsed. Drawing on a book by Héctor Tobar, the film quickly moves to the disaster itself although it does briefly introduce us ahead of that to some of the chief characters. It opts to concentrate on ten of these individuals who were famously rescued against the odds after sixty-nine days underground, but even then the individual portraits appear rather simplistic. Thus we have an old-timer due to retire in two weeks’ time, a young Bolivian regarded as an outsider, a husband whose wife is pregnant and a man who has a wife and mistress fighting over him. This may be factually accurate but these are all familiar figures in unimaginative fiction.
 

33, The

Mario Casas doles out the provisions to Antonio Banderas

 

Rather more emphasis is placed on a leading light among the miners played by Antonio Banderas, while a wasted Juliette Binoche is prominent above ground worried about her alcoholic brother (Juan Pablo Raba), one of those trapped. These are all in effect clichéd characterisations and the dialogue tends to the banal. The failings of the mining company are touched on, but this is a film that puts its trust in the drama of the rescue bid which is largely anticlimactic after the spectacular collapse early on. Those contributing to the operation include the Minister of Mining (Rodrigo Sanforo) and an engineer (Gabriel Byrne), but the cast cannot arouse much enthusiasm for a dramatisation in which the screenplay lacks depth and quality and leads to a truly ludicrous delusional scene. Here the miners imagine their family members are serving them their favourite dishes – an episode that looks like a food commercial and is accompanied by Callas singing the aria Casta Diva! The music score by the late James Horner is pure Hollywood, and there’s a rather off-putting religious element that fails to convince. Banderas and Byrne in particular do their best and, despite the superficial treatment, some viewers may find the ups and downs depicted a source of dramatic tension. But for me the drama quite failed to ignite and, paradoxically, those most likely to find The 33 fully effective are those who, suffering from a strong sense of claustrophobia, would therefore wish to avoid seeing it.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Antonio Banderas, Rodrigo Santoro, Juliette Binoche, James Brolin, Bob Gunton, Gabriel Byrne, Lou Diamond Phillips, Mario Casas, Jacob Vargas, Juan Pablo Raba, Oscar Nuñez.

                                                                                                                

Dir Patricia Riggen, Pro Mike Medavoy, Edward McGurn and Robert Katz, Screenplay Mikko Alanne, Craig Borten and Michael Thomas from a story by José Rivera based on the book Deep Down Dark by Héctor Tobar, Ph Checco Varese, Pro Des Marco Niro, Ed Michael Tronick, Music James Horner, Costumes Paco Delgado.

 

Alcon Entertainment/a Phoenix Pictures production-Warner Bros. Pictures International (UK).
127 mins. USA. 2014. Rel: 29 January 2016. Cert. 12A.