The 33 (2015)

A review by Nalini Haynes

On 5 August 2010 a 121 year old San Jose mine in Chilé collapsed, trapping 33 miners. The 33 tells the story of the miners, heroic efforts to rescue them and their families waiting on the surface.

The 33 opens with the maw of the mine, waiting like a hungry beast as it watches a celebration. A gathering complete with Elvis impersonator has gathered to celebrate an upcoming retirement. It seems a bit premature… almost like tempting fate, which is why I suspect the movie makers took a bit of license with the sequence of events. However, this celebration was a good way to introduce the characters, who we then follow into the depths of a mountain.

Don Lucho (Lou Diamond Phillips) argues with the mine manager before going underground, telling him the mine is structurally unsound.

Luke, it’s a trap.

While the truck drives into the mountain, taking an hour to get to their base of operations, a couple of facts loom on the screen via text. Upon arrival at their base they are about 700 feet underground and the temperature is 90 degrees Fahrenheit, only 6 degrees below body temperature, so it is damn hot down there. They are 5 miles from the entrance to the mine via the windy road.

As the mine engineer Lucho goes underground anyway, and discovers the rock had developed a bloody great smile as a precursor to devouring them all. He runs and yells a warning but it’s too late.

The mountain collapses.

The miners run, drive, nearly collide with each other in two different vehicles and wind up confronted by a rock bigger than the Empire State Building that’s fallen, blocking their exit. ‘The heart of the mountain is broken’.

30 miners take shelter in a refuge that — allegedly — has food for 30 miners for 30 days. It didn’t look like that much when they opened the chest.

3 miners, headed by Mario (Antonia Banderas) try to climb out through the air ducts.

The San Jose Mining Company built token ladders to deceive the miners into thinking the mandatory ladders were in place. However, the ladders didn’t go very far upwards. It wasn’t that the ladders were destroyed in the fall, the ladders were never installed. The trio return to the refuge, where Lucho tells them he’d talked to the mine manager about the ladders; the manager had the certification so the mining company wasn’t going to do anything about them.

The San Jose Mining Company had installed a radio — without wires going to the surface. And the first aid kit was a joke, I have more supplies in my bathroom than that emergency aid kit in the depths of a mountain. FFS, a St Johns Ambulance event field kit would have been a humungous upgrade and, you’d think, a minimum requirement.

So, the 33 miners are stuck underground.

The mining manager locks down the mine to prevent word getting out but he’s too late. A couple of men escape and pass the word along.

Families rock up outside the mine. The manager tells them to go home.

María Segovia (Juliette Binoche) stands her ground and calls for the families to keep vigil with her. The media gets involved. If this determined woman hadn’t stood her ground and the families hadn’t stayed with her, events would have been very different.

Laurence Goldborn (Rodrigo Santoro), the Chilean minister for mining who’d been in the job 4 months and had never set foot in a mine, got involved because he thought it was important to show the Chilean voters that he cared. He started moving and shaking from the government level then the president sent competent engineers and equipment to rescue the miners while the mining company did… fuck all, from what I could tell.

Drills were brought in. Drama builds.

Families keep vigil in a camp equipped by the government. A wife and mistress fight over the right to join the camp. Wives hope, then grieve.

Drama builds.

The 33 is mostly in English although it shows some news coverage from non-English-speaking countries with subtitles. However, this movie has not been whitewashed: actors are from various countries but very few are white. Those who are white have justification to be white: they’re American, Australian or Canadian, come in to help with the rescue efforts.

Although The 33 is a movie about 33 men, I think it passes the Bechdel Test because we follow the lives of the women on the surface. Sure, the women’s underlying focus and many of their conversations are about the men, but they talk to one another about other things too. They also organize camp, feed each other, care for each other and look after the children. I’d have to re-watch the movie to be sure.

Never since Apollo 13 have I seen such a riveting movie dramatization of real events. I knew the outcome — if I’d forgotten, the promo material tells the outcome — but The 33 immersed me in the story because of its characters, its drama, its rollercoaster ride. When grieving starts in earnest, I shed a tear. At the end of the movie, I felt like I’d been injected with adrenaline. I highly recommend The 33.

At the end of the movie, captions indicate the San Jose Mining Company was found not guilty of criminal negligence and the miners never received any compensation.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Director: Patricia Riggen
Writers: Mikko Alanne, Craig Borten, Michael Thomas, Jose Rivera, Hector Tobar (book)
Stars: Antonio Banderas, Rodrigo Santoro, Juliette Binoche

The 33