“The 33,” about a real-life Chilean mining disaster that ensnared 33 miners, contains its fair share of scary and inspirational moments, but it often gets trapped under the superficiality of its script.
The canary in the coal mine appears in the first scene of this English-language movie, when we visit a retirement party and not one character is developed. These folks are walking plot devices, even though game actors like Antonio Banderas and Lou Diamond Phillips try valiantly to breathe life into them.
Director Patricia Riggen delivers an effectively foreboding sequence in which the workers enter the claustrophobic shaft, and she reconstructs the cave-in with a frightening flair. But when the rocks stop falling and the miners hole up down deep, the shallowness of the screenplay begins to choke the air out of the film.
Many of the problems arise because there is a lot of ground to cover here: 33 miners, lots of family members, a host of government officials, and the media-sensation disaster itself. Even the brilliant Juliette Binoche, a welcome presence in any film, is reduced to whipping up empanadas and looking wistfully beyond a fence – basically standing there and doing nothing. And this is one of the most developed characters in the movie.
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Despite these problems, the final minutes of the movie help make up for it. The tense rescue of the first miner is exhilarating, and even the most jaded of viewers will be moved by the reunions of the workers and their families.
Rated: PG-13 for a disaster sequence, some language. Starring: Antonio Banderas, Juliette Binoche, Lou Diamond Phillips. Director: Patricia Riggen. Running time: 120 minutes. Theaters: Edwards 21, Edwards 14, Edwards 12, Majestic 18, Village Cinema.