DIRECTOR: Patricia Riggen6521_4836

CAST: Antonio Banderas, Rodrigo Santoro, Juliette Binoche, James Brolin, Lou Diamond Phillips, Mario Casas, Juan Pablo Raba, Kate del Castillo, Cote de Pablo, Jacob Vargas, Bob Gunton, Gabriel Byrne, Naomi Scott, Marco Treviño, Oscar Nunez, Alejandro Goic, Tim Willcox, Federico Luppi, Tenoch Huerta, Pedro Calvo

RUNNING TIME: 127 mins

CERTIFICATE: 12A

BASICALLY…: 33 miners are trapped underground when the mine they’re working in gives way, and as the Chilean government prepares a rescue operation the miners try to survive under the surface…

NOW FOR THE REVIEW…

Five years ago, one of the biggest stories that year was the rescue of 33 Chilean miners, trapped for 69 days after their mine collapsed and forced to survive with little food and drink, and no other means of escape. If you’d like a reminder of the media investment at the time, check out this clip from Russell Howard’s Good News:

As you know, that ending bit about a film being made of the event turned out to be entirely true (we wouldn’t be writing this review otherwise), with The 33 being marketed as a grim-but-inspirational survival story about an individual – or, in this case, 33 individuals – who after a freak natural disaster are stranded amidst a dark, rocky environment in a desert landscape with no contact with anyone from home. While government forces try to think of a logical way to rescue them before it’s too late, said individual(s) must try to survive with what little supplies they have, while also trying to get by with a sense of optimism that eventually, somebody will be coming for them.

Sound familiar to you at all? It should, and that’s part of the problem; not only is The 33 so generic a true-story survival flick that not one single corny cliché is left unturned – the elderly group member on their last assignment before retirement, the uplifting speeches about surviving, and that’s just a couple of them – but it also has the misfortune of opening too soon after a similar, more commercially-successful and popular survival film: Ridley Scott’s The Martian.

Now, of course there’s plenty to argue against this, seeing how The 33 is based on a story that actually happened while The Martian is entirely fictional, but the reason we’re making this comparison is because, structurally, they’re both the same movie; the only real difference being that it’s more than one person, and it’s on Earth as opposed to Mars. But it’s interesting as well to compare them because they both tell the same story through very conventional but also very different methods of storytelling; one is a much more high-profile affair since it involves a major government facility and one of their own stranded millions of miles away from our planet, while the other is a much more literal down-to-earth story about 33 (mostly) humble people working for a backwater Chilean mining facility, who become trapped hundreds of miles underground. Both tell this very conventional story of surviving against the odds that we’ve seen countless times over, while also pulling no punches when trying to convey the pure emotion of their respective situations.

The problem, however, is that The Martian took a few more risks and really took advantage of the situation that Matt Damon found himself in, being stranded alone on a distant planet with no other life-force to truly interact with. The 33, on the other hand, does not seem to realise the potential this real-life story had to make a genuinely stirring film about these real people, instead relying way too much on the formula of the genre and not taking the time to explore the paper-thin characters that are meant to be representing the real miners who actually were trapped for 69 days. We barely know even half of these people, most of them go by without having any dialogue whatsoever, and aside from Antonio Banderas’ admittedly committed turn as the de facto leader “Super” Mario Sepúlveda we have no reason to actually care about their wellbeing, other than they’re trapped and without much means of rescue. Even on the surface, focusing on the government’s attempts to rescue the miners, things are as conventional and un-enthralling as the rest of the film; a real detriment to the actual story which even in watching through archival clips like the one above is more engaging and emotional than the manipulative nature of this film.

It’s just one of those films that, even as a real-life drama, it still falls flat dramatically next to something like The Martian; it’s just as bland and forgettable as the next film of its type, which is not how we really want to remember such a truly inspiring story.

SO, TO SUM UP…

The 33 does not do its real-life story of the Chilean miners justice, relying way too much on formula and clichés to really say anything about the miners themselves or their personal struggles; something that The Martian, a fictional story, did far better than a film telling the story of an actual event, which is not a good sign of a faithful dramatization.