The 33 strikes me as the kind of film which, while flicking, one might happen across on a rainy Wednesday evening and is best accompanied by tea and a Jaffa cake. The kind of film my parents might watch, enjoy, and six months later re-watch only twigging halfway through that they’ve seen it before. It’s enjoyable and uplifting but just sentimental enough and with enough easily recognisable character beats to be entirely safe and, at the end of the day, bland.
The story of the thirty three miners who became trapped underground for over two months, the story of their survival and their rescue is an admirable one. It highlights the ability of humanity to band together when something greater than petty grievance is at stake, to defend life itself, and to fight against apparently insurmountable odds to achieve that goal. If you’re looking to watch a film that captures this sentiment then I cannot recommend The Martian highly enough. It’s brilliant.
The story of those miners, trapped beneath the earth, alone but for the hope of salvation and the dexterity to believe in such a slim hope, captures the essence of the human spirit in its ability to overcome horrendous adversity and to realise itself through its interminable instinct to survive and to live. I can think of no better film which reflects this than Lenny Abramson’s masterpiece Room. I cried five times.
The 33 doesn’t feature on any list of mine. It’s by no means a bad film but it fails to make much of an impression. Life before the miners are trapped is shown to be an idyllic if not bizarre mix of farce and teenage hormones, where happily married, middle aged couples regularly and publically copulate like young lovers and where the hijinks of adulterous men are laughed at by mistress and wife alike. The criminal lack of maintenance and safety provision which led to the collapse of the mine is hinted at only in the scowling face of a villainous mine manager who, once he’s publically ignored warnings about the safety standards, obviously decided to get the fuck out of dodge and is not seen on screen again. Even in the depths of the miners struggle to keep alive, when they’d run out of food and water, and rescuers still hadn’t been able to drill down to deliver them supplies, the film veers away from the depth of pain and suffering and instead creates a playful little scene from the miners hallucinations where the miners eat a lovely imaginary feast. Because The 33 isn’t about how or why thirty three hapless miners entered into a totally unsafe and unstable goldmine which collapsed on top of them and trapped them beneath the earth. It’s about the fact that they got out again.
Antonio Banderas is a strong lead and the script caters to his ability. As the appointed leader of the miners he gives several rousing speeches at key moments which help rally the miner’s morale as they face disaster and starvation under the ground. All of the other actors are proficient in displaying a range of emotions like sadness, confusion, frustration, anticipation, and joy when the miners are finally rescued. The script itself doesn’t offer anything too different for those in supporting roles; characters are brought together through their mutual grief, characters must put aside their differences in order to find a solution, most of the miners are angry and confused.
Argo jumped to the front of my mind when contemplating The 33. It’s one of a few films I’ve seen in recent times with the subject of a rescue operation set against seemingly insurmountable odds, based on true events. The similarities end there. Argo stands out for its scope, for capturing the political intricacies that lead to a group of diplomats becoming trapped in a hostile and violent situation, for showing the quiet ineptitude of American political bureaucracy, and capturing the frustration and emotional turbulence which accompanies the helplessness of awaiting rescue. The 33 makes no attempt to try and distil the same kind of human drama or political architecture into its one hundred and twenty seven minute running time. The potential material is there, namely in the celebrity the miners achieve and in the absurd competition they experience with one another while still trapped underground, but the film uses the subject to bolster the emotional triumph of their eventual rescue.
Adequately made and acted, you won’t leave the cinema feeling glum or sad having watched The 33, however, much like a happy meal, which usually seems like a good idea at the time, you will leave with the distinct impression that there are far more substantial offerings on the menu and probably be hungry for something a little more.
The 33 is in cinemas on January 29th. Check out the trailer below.
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