I’m sure we all remember the 2010 Chilean Mine disaster. 33 men were trapped underground for a record 69 days before being rescued. The mine in question was the San Jose copper-gold mine in the Atacama Desert in northern Chile.
The film is based on the book ‘Deep Down Dark’ by Hector Tobar with a script written by Mikko Alanne (5 Days of War, Voice of Dissent), Craig Borten (Dallas Buyers Club) and Michael Thomas (The Devil’s Double, Ladyhawke) with Jose Rivera (The Motorcycle Diaries, Letters to Juliet) being given ‘screen story’ credits. Patricia Riggen (Under the Same Moon, Lemonade Mouth) is in the director’s chair.
That’s some big heavy-weights right there and then you come to the cast: Antonio Banderas, Rodrigo Santoro (Focus, 300), Juliette Binoche, Lou Diamond Phillips (Young Guns, La Bamba), Kate del Castillo (The Book of Life, La Reina del Sur), Cote de Pablo (NCIS), Bob Gunton (The Shawshank Redemption, Argo) and Gabriel Byrne (The Usual Suspects, In Treatment).
It is estimated that one billion viewers saw the miners emerge from the mine on the 13th October 2010 so I don’t think I need to go into the story. From what I remember, and what I’ve researched after the watching the film, it seems pretty accurate to how things panned out between the accident on the 5th August and their eventual rescue.
With a stellar cast, some big hitters on writing duties, it’s a no-brainer right? Film of the year? Well, not quite I’m afraid to say.
The directing has some nice moments, the opening shots of the mine, set in the landscape of the Atacama Desert is brilliant. As are the occasional contrast shots we get between the miners down in the depths of the earth and the sudden blinding light and open-space of the desert, 2,300ft above them. However, they are few and far between, as if forgotten it’s a tool that can be used.
The writing, well the writing is a difficult one. Putting aside the story, which was obviously there in the first place, as a writer – of the book or the film – you’d go out and do your research. Interview the 33 about what went on down there, how things panned out. But herein lies the problem, and it’s quite a big problem. The 33 have taken an oath not to speak about their time in the mine to anyone other than each other. So a lot, pretty much all, of what you see when the miners are actually in the mine, the majority of the film, is made-up.
And it’s here, for me, where the film falls down. The writers seemed a little stuck as to what 33 men might have done trapped down in a mine for so long. I know I would be. So we have spats, we have a weird hallucination/trippy scene and otherwise not a lot.
Instead the writers have placed a lot of emphasis on the Chilean Minister of Mining Laurence Golborne, Rodrigo Santoro, and mining expert André Sougarret, Gabriel Byrne, and their attempts at saving the miners and the miners families who camped out around the mine. Probably a wise decision, however it starts to feel a little ‘Hollywood’ by doing this. The Minister of Mining apparently gives the mining expert the clue as to how to find the miners. Apparently not the case at all.
So maybe the director could really go to town on the environment of the miners, the claustrophobic-ness of it all and then, pop, right into the desert all that way above. From the dark to the light. But sadly not, which is sort of a good thing. You see the miners actually did have quite a bit of space, around 540 sq ft with some 1.2 miles of tunnels, in which they could move around in.
What keeps the movie going, besides the fact that you know it’s true and can mostly likely remember it, are the performances. Firstly, it’s fantastic to see Lou Diamond Phillips back in decent movies, personally I find him a great actor and so it shows here. Brazilian heart-throb Rodrigo Santoro plays the role of a stuffy member of parliament getting passionate very well. Antonio Banderas is, well, Antonio Banderas. Passionate, a bit shouty, throws himself into the role. Bob Gunton as the president of Chile doesn’t really get much screen time but he’s good when he does and Gabriel Byrne is a little lackadaisical in his performance.
Why they are all trying to do a Spanish accent is beyond me. Byrne and Gunton both slip-up at varying times throughout the film. Pointless exercise.
I feel for the writers. This should have been an amazing human interest and survival story. One of hope and coming together. Instead the miners won’t talk, the mine-owners are reluctant at best and the government wants everything to be happy. It leaves the movie a little lost for me.
The 33 is out on the 29th January 2016 in the UK.