The words ‘real life events’ are currently becoming somewhat synonymous with popular filmmaking as a whole. A cleverly compiled Wikipedia list, entitled ‘List of Films Based on Actual Events’, includes 29 of the biggest of films of 2015 – twenty-nine of the most successful films of last year were based on supposed ‘true-life stories’. They range from the undeniably adaptable (The Walk, Robert Zemeckis’ IMAX-perfected take on tightrope walker Philippe Petit) to the confusingly underwhelming – Joy, David O. Russell and Jennifer Lawrence’s recent collaboration about Joy Mangano, the inventor of the Miracle Mop. From stories of large scale financial corruption (The Big Short) to the rise and fall of N.W.A (Straight Outta Compton), it seems that the real-life movie is having its Renaissance. So, then, given its origin story – one which gripped the globe in 2010 – it was only a matter of time until The 33 was made.
In 2010, thirty-three miners were trapped underground in the San José Mine in Chile for 69 days. Long before it became adaptable for the big screen, before Antonio Banderas was cast as the lead, the words ‘triumph of the human spirit’ might have been bandied around the disaster. So, in a world full of films about mops and house prices, here comes a story, fully-formed in its tale of human endurance and brotherhood – right?
While it does do all these things, show us resilience in the face of adversity and so forth, The 33 does it in a way that is becoming more and more like Oscar-fodder. Far more concerned with telling the most dramatic story possible, the film adopts the Bad Boss and Resolved Hero tropes in order for the film to make the most of the event. What happens is that, as a result of the swarthy, impassioned performances, overtly-styled direction, and action-adventure music, you forget that what you’re watching actually happened to people. The 33 feels more like a formulaic story of human endeavour than it does an accurate dramatization of the Chilean mining disaster.
It does feel wrong to critique a film for these reasons – it is well-shot, well-acted and well-scored, and it seems almost counter-productive to put that to its detriment. But when the collapse of the mine feels more reminiscent of an Indiana Jones scene, and when Antonio Banderas dramatically whispers, ‘That’s the heart of the mountain. She finally broke,’ it all rings a bit hollow. I found myself having to do the same as I did with Baz Luhrmann’s version of The Great Gatsby – forget the source material, and watch it as nothing more than a film. When the source is this rich, though, when it’s this real and this present in Chile’s recent history, the cries of the wives that wouldn’t look out of place on a personal show-reel feel a little bit wrong.
The reality of the events feel forgotten somewhat, underplayed for the sake of character arcs and dramatic speeches. It also feels fundamentally awkward for a film based in Chile, about Chilean men, to be filmed in English – which unfortunately amplifies the film’s evident desperation to be recognised as a Properly Dramatic Tale™. The dialogue is trite and slightly unnatural in parts, and there are more than a few moments when you find yourself thinking that people just don’t talk like that.
That’s not to say that the film is a bad one overall – it’s well-constructed and well-performed, with Banderas giving a strong ‘stand up and fight’ turn as Mario Sepúlveda, the miner who began filming his co-workers to send to the rescuers. It hits all the key cornerstones of making a drama – it’s just that, in doing so, it fails to remember that it’s all real, and ends up sacrificing the depth of the ‘actual events’ in the search for those all-important heartstrings. Ultimately, The 33 fails to impress because it forgets from whence it came – and never takes us there at all.
Dir: Patricia Riggen
Scr: Mikko Alanne, Craig Borten, Michael Thomas, Jose Rivera
Cast: Antonio Banderas, Juliette Binoche, Rodrigo Santoro, James Brolin, Lou Diamond Phillips
Prd: Robert Katz, Edward McGurn, Mike Medavoy
DOP: Checco Varese
Music: James Horner
Runtime: 127 minutes
The 33 is available on DVD now.