- Trapped: Lou Diamond Phillips and Antonio Banderas
Watching Patricia Riggen’s The 33, which recounts the true, unlikely survival of 33 Chilean miners stuck 2,300 feet below ground, it’s hard not to recall The Martian — another recent film about a near-impossible rescue mission. Where The Martian takes a technical and minimally melodramatic approach to its plot, The 33 lays on the schmaltz, ignoring all the best parts of the source material in favor of a hokey, dumbed-down feel-gooder. To be fair, The Martian is fictional (for now), so there are no real-life survivors to worry about. But any viewer hoping for meaningful insight into the miners’ story, beyond what we got from cable news in 2010, will be disappointed.
The plot follows the miners’ struggles underground and the above-ground attempts to rescue them, helmed by an engineer (Gabriel Byrne) and the Chilean Mining Minister (Rodrigo Santoro). Underground, “The 33” turns out to be a bit of a false lead, as only a few of the miners are given any personality beyond their occupation, and even those are only afforded a trait or two. There’s a gung-ho leader, an old-timer near retirement, an alcoholic, an Elvis impersonator, a priest, and, I don’t know, 28 other guys? Granted, it would be tough to give all of them their due time on screen, but that thinness is endemic to the whole two-hour affair.
Obstacles are forever being interrupted by their solutions before they have a chance to sink in; the musical score nurses the audience from scene to scene without a moment of ambiguity; and for some reason, the Chileans speak English (except when they sing).
These multiple shortcomings doom the film to a state of profound fluff. Even an able ensemble cast isn’t enough to save The 33 from its own script, which feels assembled from other, also not-very-good movies. It’s a shame, because this story deserves better, and it could make a great movie. But this isn’t it.