You wouldn’t believe it if it didn’t happen. In 2010, 33 Chilean miners found themselves trapped for 69 days in a gold and copper mine while the world bit its collective nails. Hollywood never has a good time trying to trump fact with the demands of popcorn-filmmaking. And The 33, well-staged by the Mexican director Patricia Riggen, still has to condense a big story into two hours.
A lot gets lost, despite the strained efforts of screenwriters Mikko Alanne, Craig Borten, and Michael Thomas. But the story holds us rapt. As do the actors. Antonio Banderas gives a stellar performance as Mario Sepulveda, known as “Super Mario” for his skill at uniting men faced with starvation and unbearable stress. Lou Diamond Phillips also excels as Luis Urzua, a.k.a. Don Lucho, a veteran hand who has always questioned the safety of the mine. Then there’s Dario Segovia (Juan Pablo Raba), a junkie who has alienated his empanada-selling sister, Maria (Juliette Binoche, the great French actress in an ill-suited role). And yet Maria waits above ground raging at the authorities who aren’t doing enough to save her brother and his friends.
Individual tales tumble out and over each other to confusing, dizzying effect. Many stories are short-changed or ignored to concentrate on a few. Though Rodrigo Santoro appears as Laurence Golborne, the minister of mines, the story’s political implications go curiously unmined. Inspiration is what The 33 is selling. And it’s hard not to get caught up in the rescue. You forgive the movie its faults, or most of them, because its heart is firmly in the right place.