In August 2010, 33 Chilean miners were trapped in the San Jose mine for 69 days after a cave in. Although chances were that the men had died in the dangerous and sparse conditions they found themselves stuck in, rescue operations did not stop, and the most innovative mine rescue of all time began.
It really was only a matter of time before the tale of the Chilean miners was made into a film, and this one is based on Hector Tobar’s book ‘Deep Down Dark: The Untold Stories of 33 Men Buried in a Chilean Mine, and the Miracle That Set Them Free’; the only book about the accident that was officially endorsed by the miners.
The cast of the film is headed up by Antonio Banderas, who plays the charismatic and energetic Mario Sepúlveda, who became the public face of the miners after contact was made. Banderas carries the film in terms of drama, and also makes sure that the energy of the character shines through. Oscar Nunez – late of The US Office – plays one of the other miners. On the surface, Gabriel Byrne plays Andre Sougarret, the engineer in charge of rescue efforts, Rodrigo Santoro plays the Minister of Mining, Bob Gunton plays President Pinera and Huliette Bonoche takes on the role of Maria Swegovia, self appointed spokesperson for the families and sister of one of the trapped miners. The cast do well enough with what they are given, albeit some of the Chilean accents are a little wobbly.
Mikko Alanne, Craig Borten and Michael Thomas’s screenplay takes the true story of the miners’ survival, and pulls out several stories for the sake of drama, including one miner’s wife being pregnant with their first child, another being a few days away from retirement and another who is having an affair with his next door neighbour, much to his wife’s chagrin. Although these stories are most likely true, the choice to bring these to the fore adds a layer of cliché to the film that is most certainly not needed, and undermines the incredible story. As well as this, many aspects of the film were changed; such as rescuers going down into the mine before anyone came up, the order the miners were rescued in and the detail of the roles the men played during their ordeal. Since we already know the story, and the details of the fraught and tense rescue mission, these changes and omissions feel glaring.
Director Patricia Riggen makes the initial accident at the start of the film dramatic and engaging but then, since we already know the fate of these men, loses her dramatic hold of the film from there. There are some nice touches, such as the first drill breaking through seeming like a religious moment, and the relationships that build between the characters, but the pacing of the film is a little drawn out and, although we spend a lot of time underground with these miners, it is fairly safe to say we don’t actually learn much about them as people. That said, it is difficult not to be moved when these survivors finally reach the surface for the first time in months.
In all, The 33 feels a little uneven in places, but at its heart it has an engaging story, populated with interesting characters, it’s just a shame we didn’t learn anything we didn’t already know. Still, expect tears when the men finally reach freedom.