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Based on a true story about the collapse at the mine in San Jose, Chile that left 33 miners isolated underground for 69 days.

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The 33 movie full length review - The Mining Disaster That Captured The World's Attention In 2010

For sixty-nine days in the summer and autumn of 2010, the world was transfixed by a human-interest story like few others in history.

It involved the plight of thirty-three mineworkers trapped inside an unstable mountain mine in the Atacama Desert in the southern part of Chile. During what appeared to be a routine mining operation some two thousand feet below the desert surface on August 5, 2010, the mountain started shifting very violently, trapping these workers in a shelter, blocked by a mass of rock twice the size of New York's Empire State Building. With three days worth of rations, the miners managed to survive an extra two weeks before massive drills managed to reach them with additional supplies. But during that time, it was necessary to engage in a very careful rescue operation that took an additional seven and a half weeks; and it involved a great deal of risk. Utilizing a Phoenix rescue capsule designed in the U.S., the multi-national rescue operation resulted in all thirty-three men coming out of there alive on October 13th, some in very bad shape, but all in one piece, physically anyway. This is the story told in the 2015 movie THE 33.

Well directed by Patricia Riggen, a Mexican-born female director whose credits include 2007's UNDER THE SAME MOON, THE 33 stars Antonio Banderas and Lou Diamond Phillips as the principal leaders of the miners who find themselves trapped in that mountain, literally between a rock and a hard place, and a Chilean mining company and government that seem unwilling to believe that any of them are alive. The claustrophobic nature of the saga is very well depicted by Riggen, and give the added gravitas by the largely Latin American cast that portray the miners, including Banderas and Phillips. A fair amount of this film was made on location not far from the actual mine itself, in Copiapo, Chile; and the remoteness is photographed with the utmost stark reality imaginable. Riggen also depicts the kind of international media attention that the story got, and how the families and wives of the miners, including Juliette Binoche, who portrays the wife of miner Dario Segovia, played in the film by Juan Pablo Rada, angrily pressed the case for the Chilean government to do more, even to the point of asking for help from outside sources, including an American mining and drilling expert portrayed by James Brolin. Gabriel Byrne and Rodrigo Santoro portray the government officials charged with finding a way of drilling down to the miners without making the mountain even more unstable than it already is, and thus guaranteeing a cave-in that would make rescue impossible.

While it may be easy to portray the Chilean mine disaster depicted in THE 33 as an example of corporate malfeasance that had nearly fatal results, that socio-political aspect is not really discussed in the film, although when the end credits (featuring the real life miners) roll, the end title card indicates that the mining company never compensated the miners for their nearly ten weeks of psychological and spiritual horror (in essence, they got the Shaft, so to speak). The film, however, does go to great lengths to depict the aforementioned psychological and spiritual horror they went through, including a subtle hint that, unless food was sent down to them, they might resort to cannibalism if any of them died off in that hellhole, where temperatures reached 100 degrees Fahrenheit the entire time. Even without this hint, though, the film that THE 33 most closely resembles is 1993's ALIVE, which depicted the survivors of the 1972 Andean plane crash whose survival did partially depend on cannibalism; it also resembles the equally compelling true-life 1995 space saga APOLLO 13. Another aspect well depicted is how transfixed the international media, including every news outlet in the United States, covered this story in a way that, given how tabloid-focused it had become by then, was largely tasteful, though also suitably dramatic.

The whole enterprise is topped off by an appropriate, somber, and Andean-flavored score by James Horner, which turned out to be one of the last film scores he worked on before he perished in a plane crash in Ventura County, California on June 22, 2015. Despite the fairly leisurely pace (some would, mistakenly in my opinion, call it slow), THE 33, like ALIVE and APOLLO 13, is done in the right way, avoiding spectacle most of the time, using CGI only when necessary, and steering clear of sensationalism. As such, it will likely count as one of the best movies of 2015.