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New Release Review - THE 33

Dramatisation of the 2010 Chilean mining disaster.



Review by Eric Hillis (@hilliseric)

Directed by: Patricia Riggen

Starring: Antonio Banderas, Rodrigo Santoro, Juliette Binoche, James Brolin, Lou Diamond Phillips, Gabriel Byrne



Here, we're asked to accept French (Juliette Binoche), British (Naomi Scott) and Irish (Gabriel Byrne, whose Chilean accent sounds like a Dublin comedian riffing on Pacino's Tony Montana) actors as natives of Chile. With the diversity issue gaining mainstream headlines, Hollywood needs to give audiences more credit, and non-white stars more credits.


Between August 5th and October 13th of 2010 the world binge watched as a real life suspense drama unfolded in Chile's Atacama Desert. A cave-in had resulted in a large group of miners becoming trapped 700 feet underground. With barely any food or water available to the men, it became a race against time, as scientists and drilling crews from across the globe worked to free them. It made for gripping drama, the little girl in the well times 33. This misjudged dramatisation however is far from engrossing.
Potential exists to develop several movies from the events of those late summer weeks. You could tell the story of the men trapped in the throat of the earth. You could focus on the efforts of the geological crews to free them without worsening the situation. You could look at how local politicians tried to manipulate the crisis to their own end, like Kirk Douglas's sociopathic reporter in Billy Wilder's Ace in the Hole. Then there's the wives, mothers and mistresses waiting anxiously for news of the men they love. The 33 attempts to tell all these stories at once, and as such it fails to deliver a satisfying exploration of any of these strands.
This is the sort of story that seems tailor made for a cable network or Netflix/Amazon show. 10 episodes - one for each week of the crisis - would allow for a satisfying and meaty look at all the characters and various dramas involved. Two hours just isn't enough time for what director Patricia Riggen and her writing team are attempting to pull off here. With little time to allow for nuance and depth, the figures involved become simple caricatures, and despite the title, we only really get to know a handful of the miners, and barely at that.
It doesn't help that, excepting Cote de Pablo as one of the miner's wives, none of the characters are played by Chileans. We have actors from across the Spanish and Portuguese diaspora playing most of the key figures, which is fine, just like how most real life American figures are played by Brits and Aussies now, but we're also asked to accept French (Juliette Binoche), British (Naomi Scott) and Irish (Gabriel Byrne, whose Chilean accent sounds like a Dublin comedian riffing on Pacino's Tony Montana) actors as natives of Chile. The film's producers obviously thought audiences wouldn't watch a movie filled with Latin stars, but the popularity of Netflix's Narcos is proof to the contrary, and given the large Spanish speaking population in the US, wouldn't Central or South American name actors prove just a big a draw as Binoche and Byrne? With the diversity issue gaining mainstream headlines, Hollywood needs to give audiences more credit, and non-white stars more credits.
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