‘The 33’ is feel good by the numbers

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I remember when the story of trapped Chilean miners went global back in 2010. I wasn’t much of a news watcher back then, but I found myself fascinated by the story of 33 men trapped thousands of feet underground, fighting for survival. My remote control started exploring rarely watched cable news channels just to see if progress had been made to free them out of that horrific ordeal. It was that much of a hot topic and a natural story to turn into an eventual film.

332“The 33” does a serviceable job bringing the story to the big screen, following standard disaster movie formulas. If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. Key characters are introduced, drama is created surrounding those characters, then the disaster happens and the characters we’ve come to know must join together despite their differences to survive. There’s the one who’s close to retirement, the one with an expectant wife, the clown, the rebel bad boy and of course the leader. They’re all there and accounted for. So is there anything in “The 33” that sets it apart?

Not really. The story is indeed a fascinating one, but the film loses a lot of steam in its third act. At that point, the audience knows the men will survive, so some dramatic tension is created to pass time until the inevitable conclusion, but it feels forced and false. For example, Mario, the leader of the miners, is promised big bucks for a book deal once he gets out of the mine and the other miners express their jealousy because they’ve all suffered equally and feel like they deserve equal share. I have my suspicions that the film took some dramatic license with this plot point, but even if true, it didn’t really add anything to the film except for run time.

331I was also very distracted by the curious casting. Juliette Binoche, Gabriel Byrne and Bob Gunton are all proven, veteran actors, but they were not very convincing playing Chileans. Binoche especially feels out of place, basically letting her tanned skin act for her. All I could think when watching her was, “Why is that French lady from ‘Chocolat’ in Chile?” Irishman Byrne is a great actor, but his is far from the first face I think of when I try to picture a Chilean engineer. And Gunton, who plays the Chilean El Presidente, is about as white as you can get. I try not to let racial discrepancies get in my head when watching a film, but the actors must convince me of who they’re playing with their performances, and all three failed to do so. Lou Diamond Phillips is Filipino-American, but at least he looked and sounded the part of a Chilean.

But despite the unfortunate casting and formulaic plot, there is a lot of heart in “The 33” and it is indeed a feel good movie. The best part for me was the ending when they showed the real 33 survivors. That… almost brought a tear to my eye.