Every so often you’ll sit down and watch the news, and a story will be reported on that makes you think instantly, this would make one helluva movie. Not to be disrespectful to the real life victims, but you start picturing the situation cinematically, casting the performers in your head. The Chilean miner’s incident back in 2010 was one of those stories – and now, unsurprisingly, it’s been brought to the silver screen, by director Patricia Riggen with The 33. Though an accomplished piece of filmmaking, it’s not quite as remarkable as the narrative deserves, and the film envisaged in our own mind’s may even have been somewhat more fulfilling.
Beginning just as any other working day would, Mario Sepulveda (Antonio Banderas) and 32 of his his colleagues, descend deep down a a gold and copper mine, only for it to give away and collapse. Suddenly the miners are trapped, with no communication to the outside world. With wives and children at the gates – including the incensed Maria Segovia (Juliette Binoche) – the pressure is put on the government to do all they can to ensure the miner’s safety, though with various failed attempts, it’s proving to be a futile task. But as the minister of mining, Laurence Golborne (Rodrigo Santoro) vies tirelessly, they hope that will, quite literally, see light at the end of the tunnel.
Riggen’s production falls short for being so overtly cinematic and melodramatic in its execution. Though the story lends itself so well to the big screen, that doesn’t excuse the manipulative nature of the film to evoke emotion, and to deviate so carelessly from reality. That said, the late James Horner’s music is stirring, and given the emphatic nature of this tale, it’s moving regardless – but perhaps a more naturalistic take would enhance that connection we have to the tale, to immerse ourselves in this world. Instead, we don’t truly get a sense for the claustrophobia the miners feel, this very much becomes a political tale about the challenges in rescuing these men – and while that’s still intriguing, we don’t see enough of them in the collapsed mine, worrying about death, and going stir crazy in such a confined space. This is almost too Hollywoodised to be that brutal. The intentions are clear from the offset, given the cast assembled for the leading roles are mainly from other countries than Chile, where this tale is of course set. Be it Binoche, Banderas or even Gabriel Byrne and Bon Gunton – the majority of important roles are no entrusted to Chilean performers.
What transpires is a film that is told in English too, as all the characters converse in what would actually be a second, or even third language. Moving away from authenticity, and you lose sight of the real people that went through this ordeal. So when we see the 33 real miners at the end, during the closing credits, it becomes a shock as you forget this actually occurred, as you struggle to place this picture in the real world and tie the two together. That said, you’d still have to have a heart of stone not to shed a tear, or two.