ReelBob: “The 33”

By Bob Bloom

If “The 33” had been a figment of a screenwriter’s imagination, the plot would have been chided for being corny and unrealistic.

But, as the adage says, truth is stranger than fiction, and this thrilling drama, based on a true incident in Chile in 2010, is a powerful testament to the resilience of men in crisis.

Antonio Banderas, Lou Diamond Phillips, Juliette Binoche and Gabriel Byrne head a strong international cast.

This story of courage and fortitude — the miners were trapped underground for 69 days — also cannot avoid the pitfall of clichés — both below and above the ground.

On the surface, we have the idealistic government official who promises the distraught families that their loved ones will be rescued, the fiery sister of a miner who pushes officials to act and the distraught pregnant wife awaiting the return of her husband.

And underground, we have the stalwart chosen leader alternately battling his comrades in between giving them inspirational talks, as well as the standard personality conflicts separating some of the miners and the usual setbacks associated with these kind of disaster movies.

“The 33” does involve you because director Patricia Riggen continually alternates between the miners’ dilemma and the challenges of those trying to devise methods to reach them with food and drink and ultimately rescue them.

It’s just that, despite being based on fact, at times, the movie feels and plays like a formulaic disaster flick, with Banderas as the dynamic hero archetype.

The actor either angrily spews his lines as if he were an erupting volcano or whispers them so low that you have to strain to understand him.

“The 33” also includes the final score composed by James Horner before his untimely death. His is a solid work that creates emotional resonance when and where the film needs it.

The special effects, especially the cave-in sequence, are very impressive and, according to Riggen, used very little CGI work to create.

She also does a good job recreating the heat and claustrophobia the miners experienced, while trapped hundreds of feet below the earth.

At times, Riggen uses a documentary style of cinematography to detail the impact of the situation on those in other parts of Chile as well as around the world.

However, no matter how impressive the technical aspects of “The 33” are, the film still falls short in making the story more immediate and accessible to the audience because the majority of characters are stereotypical or one-dimensional.

It’s as if the picture’s humanity was buried as deeply as the miners.

Bloom is a member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association. His reviews appear at ReelBob ( and The Film Yap ( He also reviews Blu-rays and DVDs. He can be reached by email at or on Twitter @ReelBobBloom. Other reviews by Bloom can be found at Rottentomatoes:


THE 33
2½ stars out of 4
(PG-13), intense disaster sequences, language

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