The Warner Bros press notes for The 33, the movie about the 2010 rescue of 33 trapped Chilean miners, promise that the film delivers the “untold story.” Certainly that is the correct way to try to sell this film, which tells a story that a reported 1 billion people around the globe actually watched happening. We already feel we know what happened, don’t we? But the “untold” part of it is the human element, which director Patricia Riggen deftly weaves in and out of the actual rescue attempt that lasted 69 days.

pete hammond review badgeWisely not concentrating solely on the conflicts and interactions among the miners trapped 200 stories down, the film switches from their frightening plight to that of the friends, family and lovers above ground who are anxiously awaiting word on the fate of these men as well as trying to push the government to do more. That’s a welcome touch for those claustrophobics among us who may have a hard time with the idea of being trapped in that mine for over two hours. The movie has been wisely opened up to tell the story from several angles, including the miners of course.

As I say in my video review (click the link above), it’s the technical aspects of the rescue effort that I found the most fascinating. The use of different sorts of technology to establish communication with these men (no one was sure for a long time they were even alive) as well as the attempts to reach them is riveting to watch, even though we all know the outcome. If some of the dialogue — between the miners below and between the families above — seems soapy or full of well-worn cliches at times (the script is credited to several writers including Mikko Alanne, Craig Borten, Michael Thomas and a story by Jose Rivera based on the book Deep Dark Down),  it can be forgiven as overall this is such an inspirational story of human survival the power of the dramatic situation supersedes everything.

This movie packs an emotional wallop: The final set piece in which the men are essentially individually rocketed up to safety is nearly as powerful as it was to watch when it actually happened and broadcast live globally. That is no small feat. A well-chosen cast helps too, with Antonio Banderas leading the charge as Mario Sepulveda, the titular leader of the miners who tried to organize them into some semblance of a community in order to survive not just the challenging conditions but also themselves.

The large international cast also includes Rodrigo Santoro, Gabriel Byrne, Lou Diamond Phillips, James Brolin, Kate Del Castillo as well as a strong contingent of fine Latin American actors. I was most impressed though by French Oscar winner Juliette Binoche, who plays Maria Segovia, the sister of one of the miners and the key activist in getting the Chilean government off its ass. She is totally convincing in this change-of-pace role and plays Segovia with grit, determination and conviction, easily taking the acting honors in this cast. It is a smart casting choice. When she is onscreen, you never turn away.

Riggen has crafted a picture that also is impressive looking in terms of re-creating the mine collapse and surrounding areas as it was shot on the Chilean location virtually where it happened (the actual mines used, however, were found in Colombia). Production values are strong across the board, and the film has an authentic look to it, even if this story might have been better served if it was in the native language rather than mostly English. I realize it’s a necessity for box office reasons, but sometimes something is lost in translation. Many of the actual miners reportedly served as consultants and are seen in new footage shot for the film’s ending.

Mike Medavoy (who lived in Chile at one time), Robert Katz and Edward McGurn were the producers of the Alcon and Phoenix production that Warner Bros. will release in the U.S. on November 13. Do you plan to see The 33? Let us know what you think.