Movie review: ‘The 33’ is inspiring despite hokey sentimentality

What It’s About

The Chilean miners trapped for 69 days riveted the world to their plight, as they waited to be rescued in 2010. “The 33” is the Hollywood version of their miraculous tale, with equal parts touching and hokey reality drama.

With such a stirring real-life event cinematic-ready, why does it feel too much like a standard very special episode as it lurches to its happy ending? Perhaps because the truth trumps the fiction, so it didn’t need embellishment?

Presenting the untold true story had to include family conflicts, underground tensions and above-ground setbacks, but director Patricia Riggen (“Under the Same Moon”) layers on mawkish sentimentality, not trusting us to feel authentic emotions.

Filmed in the toasty Atacama Desert, the harsh conditions add a toughness to the men and their families. They are people who have bloomed in dry earth. So of course they have the fortitude to endure life’s hardships.

Watching the 100-year-old gold and copper mine collapse while the men try frantically to escape is as harrowing as any disaster movie. Checco Varese’s cinematography masterfully captures the country’s landscape, underground hell and the spirit of the miners.

The ordeal was so distressing, and watching the men try to survive on meager rations and frayed temperaments is intense. We get to know a few of them better than others, and their personal stories are spun in such a way to tug at our heartstrings.


A folksy Antonio Banderas is compelling as the unofficial leader who emerged, “Super” Mario Sepulveda, a content family man who needs an extra shift, and now must hold it together in dire conditions.

Lou Diamond Phillips (“Longmire”) is an emotional superintendent Don Lucho, trying to grasp the magnitude of what’s happened, while Oscar Nunez (“”The Office”) plays Yonni Barrios, a rakish fellow who is openly cheating on his wife.

Appealing Mario Casas is a sympathetic dad-to-be, Alex Vega, a mechanic trying to earn more money for his growing family.

Rodrigo Santoro (“Focus:) is strong as Laurence Golborne, the dedicated Minister of Mining who tirelessly works on solutions to the myriad of problems. He is aided by engineer Andre Sougarette (Gabriel Byrne) and American Jeff Hart (James Brolin), both stalwart stand-up guys.

Juliette Binoche plays vigilant Maria Segovia, waiting for her estranged brother, alcoholic Dario, to make it to safety. She also makes a mean empanada.

If a miner doesn’t have an emotional backstory, he’s not featured, so it’s hard to keep everyone straight, their grimy faces growing thinner during their time below the surface.

What Works

The appeal of this feel-good story is undeniable, truly remarkable that all men survived. The media circus rings true, too.

The emotional music score, which unabashedly tugs your heartstrings, was composed by the late James Horner, and the film is dedicated to him.

The band of brothers is acknowledged at the finale, with a black-and-white sequence on the beach, their personalities shining through. Another example of Varese’s exceptional cinematography work.

What Doesn’t Work

What starts out as an engaging real-life tale gets wobbly midway by fluffing up the drama above ground, and focusing on skirmishes below. A fantasy sequence with the men dreaming about their favorite dishes lovingly prepared by their significant others was jarring.

Truth is stranger than fiction, and should have been even more absorbing, in the manner of ‘Apollo 13” and “Argo,” where we know the outcome but are on the edge of our seats.

Yet, it is a heartwarming, life-affirming tale about the resiliency of human beings, no matter what culture and ethnicity.

2 1/2 stars out of 4

Director: Patricia Riggen

Starring: Antonio Banderas, Lou Diamond Phillips, Rodrigo Santoro, Juliette Binoche, Gabriel Byrne, Maria Casas, Oscar Nunez, James Brolin

Rated: PG-13

Length: 2:07