When a movie tells the story of a real life event that was watched in real time by millions all over the Earth, it needs to be compelling and non-formulaic. This is a necessity as everyone watching knows the outcome, particularly for an event that happened just five years ago.
In “The 33”, the story isn’t if the 33 miners trapped in a collapsed Chilean mine will survive as much as creatively showing their plight and the rescue effort that occurred 2,300 feet above them. Unfortunately, their story, while touching, is laid to waste by horrible pacing and some of the worst casting in recent memory.
While there were literally hundreds of people affected by the mine’s collapse, “The 33” understandably focuses on a handful of characters who are composites of the entire group. Mario (Antonio Banderas) is a loving husband and father who charismatically leads the men when all hope is lost. Don Lucho (Lou Diamond Phillips) is their supervisor, walking the fine line between company man and concern for the miner’s well being.
There’s Alex (Mario Casas), a soon to be father, and a homeless alcoholic, Dario (Juan Pablo Raba), who has tossed his sister and only living family member, Maria (Juliette Binoche), to the wayside. There’s even a man, Yonni (Oscar Nunez), caught in a hilarious love triangle between his wife and mistress.
These are rich, interesting characters that are given nothing more than moments of introduction. Once the collapse occurs, every character other than Banderas’ Mario is rendered into nothing more than dirty faces in the dark.
The collapse itself is masterfully created by director Patrica Riggen. It occurs in the first thirty minutes of “The 33”, but isn’t drawn out and happens with such ferocious intensity that it zips by in the blink of an eye. The filmmakers quite rightfully did not turn the moment into an overwrought Hollywood action sequence and treat it with respect, showing the bravery of the miners making sure that all of them are accounted for without turning any of them into super heroes.
When it becomes apparent that the private mining company isn’t interested in saving the men, the Chilean Minister of Mining, Laurence Golborne (Rodrigo Santoro), steps in to jump start the rescue effort. He enlists drilling expert Andre Sougarret (Gabriel Byrne) to come in and lead a what seems like impossible task.
This is when “The 33” grinds to a halt. The movie shifts from the men trapped underground to the spoon-fed emotionalism of the people above. A small tent city, loaded with family of the miners, pops up on the drilling site and all of the interaction that occurs there is hamfisted, particularly the ridiculous conversations between Laurence and Maria.
When “The 33” sticks underground with the miners, it is fantastic. The drama is heavy with a few fantastic moments of levity. The most inspired moment of the entire movie is a gorgeously shot and poetic dream-like sequence as the 33 men sit down to share their last can of tuna. It’s truly heartfelt and the exact type of creativity that a movie like this needs.
Juliette Binoche and Gabriel Byrne are both fine actors with loads of pedigree. However, they are so miscast in “The 33” that it almost seems intentional. Binoche is as not Chilean as a human being can possibly get and her over the top persona only makes her a distraction every time she is on screen. Byrne does better as he stays mostly low key, but it’s borderline impossible for him to disguise his Irish brogue.
In addition to being inexplicably handsome, even when covered in dirt, Antonio Banderas has put in the finest acting of his career in “The 33.” His charisma is on full display and he even hackneyed dialogue sound like prose. Banderas has plenty of lengthy speeches to make and when his eyes well up, it’s difficult to keep yours from doing the same.
The end of “The 33” feels extremely rushed, almost glazing over the danger involved as the miners are slowly pulled from the mine. The final scene, handled with beauty and grace by Lou Diamond Phillips, is a powerful and inspired tribute to everyone involved with saving these 33 souls.
If the rest of “The 33” had that type of creativity, it would be a surefire Oscar contender. Sadly, it’s overcome by melodrama and formula.
In stores Tuesday, February 16.