Three-and-a-half out of five stars
A solid film about a shaky mine.
It’s a golden age at the movies for true-story trauma junkies. If you’re just getting over the anxiety caused by seeing “Everest” a few months ago -- the true story of an expedition where a bunch of people die -- here comes “The 33,” the true story of Chilean coal miners trapped underground for months in horrible conditions.
“The 33” has a (spoiler alert) much happier ending and is a little less tense than Everest, but you still might want to pre-book a session with your therapist for after.
If Twitter and Vine have warped your brain until you have the attention span of a trout: The San Jose copper and gold mine in Chile’s Atacama Desert collapsed in 2010, trapping 33 workers 2,300 feet underground. As the world watched, the mining company and the state drilled for signs of life for 17 days before finding the men, all of them alive. It then took another 52 days to get them out. “The 33” is the story of those harrowing 10 weeks.
It starts in a happy place – a pre-retirement party for one of the older workers. At this fiesta, filled with food, fun and football (the non-U.S. kind), we get to know some of the miners we’ll be following, and their families.
This is where the movie starts to develop its beating heart. While the story of what the men go through is certainly gut-wrenching, the true emotion here comes from the wives and children above the surface. It’s their anguish we identify with because, let’s face it, most of us seeing this movie aren’t miners.
But most of us have been afraid for a loved one in peril. “The 33” taps that nerve and milks it for all the tears you’ve got.
But the waterworks stay off throughout the first half of the film, as we head for The Trappening. And as far as special effects go, the mine cave-in won’t be winning any awards. There’s a cheesy CGI feel to the whole dimly lit sequence but, thankfully, it’s rather short.
Whereas “Everest” went to great lengths to make you feel as if you were on the mountain in the middle of a storm, “The 33” never really achieves that tension. It’s part of the reason the film’s good, but not great.
What’s really good, though, is the cast. In the massive ensemble, Antonio Banderas and Lou Diamond Phillips shine as the de facto leaders of the trapped group, while Juliette Binoche and Cote de Pablo bring strength and humanity to their roles as women doing everything possible to get their men home.
They really do as much as they can with the material, which feels at times a little too much like a TV movie.
Ultimately, “The 33” story on its own is dramatic enough that this should easily be awards-season material, and it’s certainly coming out at a time when Oscar-worthy films are traditionally released.
Sadly, though, it never quite gets there. Even so, if you put aside any lofty expectations, you have a solid film with a lot of heart that tells a fascinating story. Bring the Kleenex.