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Nov. 17, 2015

"The 33" moves mountains

by Randima Herath, Online Editor-in-Chief
"The 33" is based off of the 2010 Chilean mining accident, in which 33 miners trapped underground for 69 days survived against all odds. The film follows the timeline of the disaster, bringing to light the precarious working conditions in the Chilean mining industry through effective foreshadowing and powerful acting. Director Patricia Riggen gives the audience a realistic glimpse into the harrowing physical and psychological terrors of being trapped underground, while also providing well timed comedic relief.

The 33

(released November 13, 2015)
Courtesy of Warner Bros. Entertainment
Chips Rating:
4.5 stars

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"The 33" tells the unforgettable story of the 2010 Chilean mining accident.

The film starts off festively, showing the lives of dozens miners in Copiapó, Chile. The next day, Luis Urzúa (Lou Diamond Phillips), the shift foreman, confronts the owner of the mine with evidence of its failing stability, only to be disregarded harshly. Not surprisingly, a massive cave in occurs soon after. All 33 miners who were working at the time manage to make it to a designated refuge chamber with supplies. But their optimism dissipates, as they discover that the wires of the radio were never hooked up, the medical kit is empty, the ladders built to the surface were never finished and there's only enough food to last three days.

Mario Sepúlveda (Antonio Banderas) assumes the role of leader, rationing what little they have to ensure everyone's' survival while mediating outbursts of despair. Still, the mine owner makes no attempt to rescue the 33, believing them all dead men. But the families of the trapped men take it upon themselves to demand answers and draw international attention to the gross negligence of the mining company. Witnessing this, Minister Laurence Golborne (Rodrigo Santoro), the Minister of Mining of Chile, is compelled to do everything that he can to save the 33.

"The 33" used basic cinematic tricks to hint at the disastrous cave in. The day before the accident, Sepúlveda asks Urzúa if he can work the next day, even though it's his day off. Right after, a young miner, Álex Vega (Mario Casas), turns down a much safer job because it pays less. Another miner who has worked for 46 years discusses his upcoming retirement in two weeks. And with Urzúa's confrontation with the mine owner over warning signs of the mountain shifting, the foreshadowing is a little heavy handed, but it does its job to prepare the audience for what's to come.

Following a harrowing sequence of shots during which the cave in occurs, the 33 miners realize that they are trapped together. Although much of the movie depicts their lives underground, the performances of the actors effectively focus the attention of the audience on emotion instead of the repetitiveness of the setting. Banderas establishes himself as the good guy everyone roots for at the very beginning, extending his kindness to a Bolivian miner who is made fun of by the other Chileans. But his character shows true charisma shortly after the cave in, when most of the miners breakdown into fits of anger, hopelessness and anguish. Banderas remains calm and idealistic in order to tone down the growing tensions.

Other actors like Casas depict the psychological horrors that the 33 had to endure 2,300 feet underground in a sweltering 94 degrees Fahrenheit. Casas plays a young miner, with a wife back home who is expecting a baby at the time of the accident. Driven to the edge of a cliff, quite literally, Casas stands in choked desolation, contemplating suicide. Another miner who is an alcoholic, Darío Segovia (Juan Pablo Raba), experiences torturous withdrawal and fits of regret for his past actions, believing he will never be able to right his wrongs again.

The chemistry and performances of the 33 create a breathtaking emotional rollercoaster for the audience. But the heavy content is always well balanced, with a humorous feud between a mistress and the wife of one of the 33 appearing unexpectedly here and there. Other times, Chilean culture and life are shown through the bittersweet actions of loved ones above ground, who remain camped out by the mine. Jessica Vega (Cote de Pablo), the wife of Álex, recites a stirring song of love and hope, while Darío's sister María Segovia (Juliette Binoche) shares her widely known empanadas. The only thing that takes away from the display of culture is the delivery of dialogue in English. It's clear that Chilean culture is an important element of the movie, but using subtitles would have preserved it better.

"The 33" is a rare example of a story retold successfully. And even though the story behind it is a dark one, "The 33" does an exceptional job of recreating what was a life-changing experience.

"The 33" is rated PG-13 for a disaster sequence and some language and is now playing in theaters everywhere.



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