It was clear in 2010 that the rescue of 33 Chilean miners who had been trapped underground for 69 days was the stuff of movie scripts. The story had real heroes, villains, tension, love and the potential for death.
The story did become a movie script, penned by Mikko Alanne, Craig Borten and Michael Thomas based on the book by Hector Tobar. While “The 33” features several solid acting performances, a theater-shaking mine collapse scene and many of the elements of the real story, there’s a mountain-size piece of the story that is missing.
Because the world watched each miner being pulled to safety, the movie is missing the threat of death. No matter what director Patricia Riggen tries to do to build tension, it comes up short because we all know the ending.
The best Riggen can do is bank on the performances of her main players to keep the audience engaged. She gets that kind of draw from Antonio Banderas, who plays Mario Sepulveda, the unofficial leader of the trapped miners. Banderas easily handles his character, who represents hope even when he feels hopeless.
Equally strong is Rodrigo Santoro, who plays Laurence Golborne, Chile’s minister of mining. The film needed someone on the surface who could get across the same hope and determination as the men trapped below. Santoro looks comfortable as a politician and as the last champion for the families waiting for some words of encouragement.
Riggen paints Golborne as a fighter, but never to the point of being heroic. That makes him a good anchor for all of the emotional and political turmoil swirling around him.
The same can’t be said for Lou Diamond Phillips as Don Lucho, the safety inspector who let the miners down. His performance lacks passion and that leaves the work feeling cold.
No matter how many good performances there are, the film struggles to hold the audience. It has a strong opening and an emotional ending, but in between there’s a lot of material that feels like it is just helping pass the time. There’s a weird fantasy scene with the hungry miners and an odd musical number by Cote de Pablo, who plays the pregnant wife of one of the miners. These become sidetracks from the inevitable path the film must travel.
All those moments in the middle work on a predictable tempo. Spaced perfectly through the movie are a series of inspirational speeches. The spark is gone when you can tell exactly when it’s time for someone to rally the troops.
“The 33” also lacks the kind of claustrophobic feel that would have added tension and built angst.
Despite a valiant effort by the actors, “The 33” had the major mountain of familiarity to overcome. Everyone tries, but they just can’t do enough to get viewers to the emotional peak.
Cast: Antonio Banderas, Cote de Pablo, Lou Diamond Phillips, Rodrigo Santoro
Director: Patricia Riggen
Rated PG-13 (disaster sequence, language)