Review: The 33 Fails To Seamlessly Combine Fact And Fiction
Title The 33
Director: Patricia Riggen
Screenwriter: Mikko Alanne (screenplay), Craig Borten (screenplay), Michael Thomas (screenplay), Jose Rivera (screen story), and Hector Tobar (based on the book “Deep Down Dark” by)
Principal Cast: Antonio Banderas, Rodrigo Santoro, Juliette Binoche, James Brolin, and Lou Diamond Phillips
Summary: Based on the real-life event, when a gold and copper mine collapses, it traps 33 miners underground for 69 days.
I’ve often said that the reason prequels often fail is because they have to work twice as hard to remind the audience that they already know the ending. This is something that rings just as true for a “based on a true story” movie but there is another element. The real world is often not formulaic like a traditional movie. There aren’t clear character arcs, nor are there beginnings, middles and ends, and those are needed for movies. Movies that are based on true stories need to add these elements but do it subtly enough that it doesn’t take from the event that is unfolding in front of us.
The 33 makes an admirable attempt to tell the story of thirty three Chilean miners that were trapped for sixty nine days, but a clunky script and a strangely “Americanized” feeling diminishes the product a lot.
Movies based on true stories need to work twice as hard to make sure the reality and fiction are blended seamlessly together. This requires a very strong script and The 33 is penned by four people based on a book written by one of the trapped men. They aren’t able to make that blending very smooth as it becomes very obvious very early on when things were added for dramatic effect. There were moments where I thought I was beginning to get swept up in the story and then something would come out of nowhere that felt like a scripted moment in a movie instead of something based on real life. I couldn’t focus on the movie because of those moments, and every time I lost focus I I remembered that I already knew how this ended and I stopped being interested again. It happened a few times and after the third or fourth time I stopped trying to get sucked into the story.
The movie also feels strangely Americanized in a way. The most dramatic way this shows is how the movie will switch from English to Spanish on a whim for seemingly no reason. It was very jarring and I didn’t understand why they didn’t just do the entire movie in Spanish. Perhaps they are going for mass appeal and a subtitled movie wouldn’t do well, but there are enough subtitles that might annoy some people who don’t like them in a movie. It was another moment that took me straight out of the movie and every time they switched back and forth it just seemed to highlight how clunky it was. I’ve seen actors learn another language for other movies and I would imagine a good portion of this cast could already speak Spanish. The screenplay also felt paced strangely as it seemed to have “stopping points” at least three times but I have to imagine that is what this situation was really like. These miners thought they were rescued and ended up having to spend even more time down there.
There are some good things going on here. The story of what these men went through is very interesting and we see things from other angles that aren’t just the men. We see the search and how the government reacted. We see how much of the world’s attention this captured and how having a million eyes on them forced several hands. These are all very interesting things that I think would have been told better by a documentary rather than a regular movie. Director Patricia Riggen does a very good job of capturing the atmosphere of the mine, including the claustrophobia and the heat, and how hopeless it must feel to be so far underground. There are some good performances as well by the great Antonio Banderas but the performances get lost in the clunky script.
The 33 is another real life account that would have worked much better as a documentary than a feature length movie. The moments where The 33 tries to be a conventional movie are the moments that break the flow. This is an interesting enough story that it’s worth looking into but not quite worth the price of admission. I would take a look when it hits Redbox or Netflix.