The 33: A Tale of Hope

Ben Atwater

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 Deep Down Dark, a novel by Hector Tobar, tells the story of the 2010 San Jose mining accident, in which a mine in the Atacama Desert of Chile collapsed, leaving thirty- three miners trapped for sixty-nine days in the caverns 700 meters below the earth. The story swept the world in 2010, gaining international attention for the remarkable story of survival against great hardships.

Called The 33, the film based on Tobar’s novel stars Antonio Banderas, Juliette Binoche, and Rodrigo Santoro. The 33 follows the miners from a few days before the mine collapse to their rescue.

The plot established Mario, played by Banderas, as a morally driven man with a strong sense of responsibility who cares about his co-workers. Juliette Binoche, who recently appeared as Bryan Cranston’s wife in Godzilla, plays Maria Segovia, who continues to support her alcoholic brother, Dario, despite his tendencies to distance himself. Oscar Nunez, from The Office, even appears as a miner, which seems to be his only role since the show ended in 2014.

The collapse of the mine happens about twenty minutes into the film. The visual effects are excellent here, with crumbling rock and thick dust being painted very convincingly by the CGI artists.

The scenes of the miners racing through the dark tunnels in trucks to escape the collapsing mountain in the Atacama are excellently done and incredibly thrilling, as not only is the CGI excellent, but the sound effects also perfectly simulate the massive collapse. From that point on, the film takes on two storylines; the thirty-three trapped down under, and the efforts of the families and government to retrieve them. In the mine, Mario takes on the leadership role and has to ration food accordingly. Having only enough provisions for three days, the thirty- three must hold onto hope that the team up top is working very hard.

And so they do. Rodrigo Santoro, known as Xerxes from 300, plays Laurence Goldborne, the Chilean minister of mining, who takes lead on the rescue efforts, bringing in drills and teams from all over the world to drill down 700 meters, which seemed to be an impossible feat to all. Laurence also has to handle the families, who wait every day at the mines gate clinging to hope that there will be good news.

Handling a disastrous PR problem, Laurence arguably becomes the main character of the film, even more than the miners. Dealing with President Pinera, played by Bob Gunton (Warden Norton from The Shawshank Redemption), Laurence becomes more and more personally invested in these miners as the families waiting at the gate start to become prominent players themselves with character arcs that develop.

What The 33 does well is incorporate all the major players in a national crisis like this.

While the story is very much about the miners, it is just as much about the families and the government response as well. Santoro stands out as Laurence, and gives the best performance in the film, due to his fitting into the role of a bureaucratic suit, who transforms into a genuinely invested stakeholder in the mine collapse. The thirty-three miners build a very believable sense of camaraderie, mostly due to Banderas’ fatherly like presence over the rest of them.

As the miners face their humanity, they must come to terms with facing the possibility of starving to death, which was expected at many times. The shots inside the caverns in which the thirty-three were trapped are lit very well, as everything is visible, yet the encroaching darkness is still portrayed. The story never drags, as the narrative shifts from the thirty three to the efforts on the ground at just the right points to keep the viewer engaged.

The shots and cinematography of the Atacama Desert filmed on-location are beautiful, and reminiscent of Lawrence of Arabia at times. James Horner’s score is emotional and hits at just the right points.

Leaving the theater, I did not have quite the emotional experience of crying at the triumph that I hoped I would. Yet, I knew I had witnessed a powerful and carefully constructed tale of human triumph against great odds, and, to that, I must tip my hat.

So, despite what the majority of critics proclaim, I highly recommend The 33 and do hope that you see it on the big screen for full impact.

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The 33: A Tale of Hope