Hard to believe it’s already been – and only been – five years since the internationally-televised live dramatic rescue of 33 miners outside Copiapó, Chile. It’s a story that was ready-made for Hollywood, so it’s no surprise that Hollywood jumped on having it made into a major motion picture (starring Antonio Banderas as the miners’ de facto leader, super ‘Mario’). The problem is, The 33 doesn’t quite rise to the level of major motion picture, despite the very real and captivating narrative and characters in play. It’s ultimately a feel-good, but fleeting account of what was happening above ground, and below, after a massive explosion at a 100-year-old gold and copper mine left 33 men trapped 20,000 feet below the surface. The ordeal lasted for 69 days. And rescue was never a sure thing.
The 33 is based on the book “Deep Down Dark: The Untold Stories of 33 Men Buried in a Chilean Mine, and the Miracle That Set Them Free” by Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Héctor Tobar. What the movie provides that a book or documentary can’t quite capture is that immersive, visceral sense of what the miners had to endure as they pondered their fate in a hot, dark cave deep underground for days on end. Emergency rations were scarce. Escape ladders had never been completed. And pinpointing their location seemed near impossible.
The stuff that happens above ground is never quite as stirring, despite the film’s efforts to incorporate the struggles of friends and relatives who camped out near the mine, refusing to give up hope of finding their loved ones and keeping the pressure on government officials to keep digging. That’s not to say I didn’t tear up a bit and cheer as the miners, one by one, emerged in a specially-designed capsule. But I’m pretty sure I teared up and cheered as the reality unfolded on national television in 2010. It’s hard to know if I would have been more or less emotionally invested had I gone into the movie not knowing the outcome. Spoiler alert: they all survive. Chi chi chi!!!
Bottom line: The movie isn’t as strong as I expected (or hoped for) given the raw material, but it is a nice reminder that people are pretty resilient, international cooperation can yield great results, and miracles really do happen – once in a while. And given what’s happening in the world today, we can all use such reminders. So consider it for the Netflix queue.