[Screen It]


"THE 33"
(2015) (Antonio Banderas, Lou Diamond Phillips) (PG)

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Drama: Following a partial mine collapse, thirty-three men find themselves trapped thousands of feet underground, all while those up top try to rescue them.
It's 2010 and Luis "Don Lucho" Urzua (LOU DIAMOND PHILLIPS) is the shift foreman at a privately owned gold mine located in the Atacama Desert of San Jose, Chile. Tasked with keeping the miners safe, he's concerned with recent signs of shifting within the mountain, but the site supervisor blows off his concerns. Accordingly, Don Lucho leads a team of miners down thousands of feet into the mine, including family man Mario Sepulveda (ANTONIO BANDERAS); Elvis impersonator Edison Pena (JACOB VARGAS); and Yonni Barrios (OSCAR NUNEZ) who's trying to balance his wife and mistress. There's also homeless alcoholic Dario Segovia (JUAN PABLO RABA) who's estranged from his older sister, Maria (JULIETTE BINOCHE); veteran miner Mario Gomez (GUSTAVO ANGARITA) who's days away from retirement; father-to-be Alex Vega (MARIO CASAS); and Bolivian newcomer Carlos Mamani (TENOCH HUERTA) who's apprehensive about going down into the mine.

It turns out his concerns are justified when an enormous rock -- with twice the mass of the Empire State Building -- slips and crushes the men's only way of escape. With only three days worth of food for him and the other thirty-two trapped men, Mario assumes the role of leader and rations the food, all while they hope for help from above.

Knowing the outcome of this could affect his political career, Chilean President Sebastian Pinera (BOB GUNTON) sends his relatively new minster of mining, Laurence Golborne (RODRIGO SANTORO), to the scene to coordinate the rescue attempt and serve as a liaison between the government and the miners' families who've arrived on the scene.

With mining engineer Andre Sougarret (GABRIEL BYRNE) showing up to lead the rescue drilling attempts, everyone above and below ground hopes that the miners can be saved, something that becomes increasingly uncertain as the days and then weeks pass by.

OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10
When I was a kid growing up in Richmond, VA, I was mesmerized by a set of train tracks that ran straight into a wall of a hill and then came out the other side, also blocked by a wall. My parents said a train was inside that hill, sealed forever like a nightmarish tomb after a collapse many decades earlier.

That was the Church Hill Tunnel, and the accident occurred four decades before I was born, but all I could envision were all of the bodies still inside the train still inside that tunnel. It wasn't until years later that I learned it wasn't a passenger train and that the tunnel collapsed while it was being worked on. Even so, the thought of being buried alive (which is possible, since several bodies of workers were never recovered, so they might have survived the initial collapse) haunted my childhood.

Despite being far away and stemming from a different sort of accident, I'm sure that's what the Chilean government and the families and friends of loved ones wanted to prevent back in 2010 when thirty-three miners ends up trapped several thousand feet underground after their mine partially collapsed. You might recall that true event that captured worldwide attention as the ordeal of trying to rescue the men went on for several months.

That tale has now been brought to the big screen in "The 33," a drama that shares some similarities to this year's earlier "The Martian." Both revolve around men (or a man in the case of the sci-fi flick) trapped in life or death scenarios where their chances of survival not only depend on their own resourcefulness, but also that of those trying to rescue them.

Of course, while that Matt Damon flick mostly involved high tech methodologies of trying to figure how to get the astronaut off Mars, this flick -- directed by Patricia Riggen from a script by Mikko Alanne and Craig Borten and Michael Thomas (who've adapted Hector Tobar's book "Deep Down Dark") -- is decidedly more low tech in regards to how to dig the trapped miners out of the Earth. Thus, the result is more brawny than brainy, but the question remains about whether you'd want to spend two hours stuck with both those below and above ground.

Viewer reaction will obviously vary. I found it to be an okay drama with some moments that worked better than others, but didn't feel it was as harrowing or engaging as it probably could and certainly should have been considering the premise. Granted, with the titular number down below and many more up top, the film is filled with a plethora of characters, many of which obviously couldn't be afforded much if any screen time beyond their sheer physical presence.

Down below, the main characters are played by Antonio Banderas as the unofficial survival leader of the men who won't accept defeat; Lou Diamond Phillips as the shift manager with a decidedly different and thus negative view; Juan Pablo Raba as a homeless alcoholic; Gustavo Angarita as the veteran miner with only a few days to go; Mario Casas as the first-time expectant father; and Tenoch Huerta as a newcomer meets outsider from Bolivia.

Up top, Rodrigo Santoro plays the country's minister of mining sent to the accident scene by the Chilean president (played by Bob Gunton) and joined there by an engineer (Gabriel Byrne) who's tasked with finding a way to drill thousands of feet down to the men. Juliette Binoche plays the alcoholic miner's estranged sister and serves as the main public face for the scores of parents, wives and children who assemble on the site in hopes of any good news.

Perhaps it's due to knowing how things played out in real life, but I never felt that concerned about the characters' plight, something that ultimately undermines a great deal of its effectiveness. That doesn't make it bad by any means, mind you, but a great deal of what should have been dramatic thunder comes off like a whimper.

That said, I did enjoy a fantasy moment where the characters -- faced with their last meager rations -- imagine or hallucinate their loved ones serving them lots of food down in their cave prison, only to have them return to their bleak reality. Beyond that, there are the to-be-expected scenes of the obligatory tensions, including optimism vs. pessimism, both down below and up top, along with the inspirational speeches about not giving up.

The performances are decent, but not outstanding, with Banderas, Binoche and Santoro getting the lion's share of material. And cinematographer Checco Varese uses enough shaky cam footage to somewhat give viewers a "you are there" vibe along with them, but without making them want to barf.

In and by the end, I can't say I was ever bored. But it's highly unlikely the material will stick with me as has the notion of those bodies still left in the collapsed train tunnel of my childhood. "The 33" rates as a 5 out of 10.

Reviewed November 9, 2015 / Posted November 13, 2015

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