The 33
dir Patricia Riggen
scr Mikko Alanne, Craig Borten, Michael Thomas
prd Robert Katz, Edward McGurn, Mike Medavoy
with Antonio Banderas, Rodrigo Santoro, Juliette Binoche, Gabriel Byrne, Lou Diamond Phillips, James Brolin, Naomi Scott, Mario Casas, Juan Pablo Raba, Oscar Nunez, Bob Gunton, Adriana Barraza
release US 13.Nov.15, UK 28.Jan.16
15/Chile Alcon 2h07
The 33
It's hot underground: Phillips (left), Banderas (right) and four of the 33

santoro binoche byrne
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
The 33 Based on the true story of the 2010 Chilean mining disaster that captured the world's attention, this film starts out like a rather standard B-movie with corny melodrama and characters that have clearly been ramped up for dramatic effect. Then the astonishing events kick into gear and the film becomes startlingly gripping. Which is unexpected since the outcome is so well-known.

When an overworked 150-year-old copper/gold mine collapses in Chile's Atacama desert, 33 miners are trapped 700 metres underground. With the global media watching, government minister Laurence (Santoro) leads the rescue operation with the help of engineer Andre (Byrne), as a growing camp of relatives gathers outside. Meanwhile underground, Mario (Banderas) becomes the miners' leader, helping them survive for 17 days on three days of rations, before a drill breaks through from the rescuers. And it takes another 52 days to get the miners out.

Director Riggen never indulges in anything too flashy or inventive, quietly grounding the film reality while deepening characters and situations. The film's opening section feels like the set-up for a TV movie, cursorily establishing people and settings. Then the mine's collapse propels the film in a more emotional direction, as Riggen shows the side of the story the news media never reported. She also cleverly deploys religious imagery to echo the thoughts and feelings of the trapped men and their families above.

The actors create engaging characters worth root for. Each of them gets a chance to shine along the way. Banderas anchors the film as the charismatic but reluctant hero, while Santoro has the most complex role as an inexperienced official who understands the stakes and refuses to give up. Binoche adds a strong emotional kick as a woman whose junkie brother (Casas) is trapped below. Only a few miners emerge from the ensemble, including Phillips' frazzled boss, Raba's young father-to-be and Nunez's life-loving two-timer.

So even if it begins as a by-the-books disaster movie, the film works its way under the skin. The special effects are startlingly effective; the accident itself is so heart-pounding that we can almost forgive narrative flourishes that add suspense and emotion to already intense sequences. And the complex personal dramas taking place in various characters add meaning to a true story with a well-known triumphant ending. Then the final scenes contribute a potent emotional kick, as does a moving black and white coda featuring the real miners.

cert 12 themes, violence 13.Nov.15

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