The 33 begins and ends with stark facts, broadcast in text. The film opens with one bleak statistic — 12,000 miners die every year in mining accidents — and ends with another: the 33 miners who were trapped in Chile were never compensated. In between is a glowing motivational movie that only lightly touches on these injustices. It’s as if the filmmakers are saying, “There’s way more to this story, but because we’re Hollywood, we can’t tell it that way.”
It’s a movie about hope and endurance against seemingly impossible odds, and as motivational movies go, it’s well done and enjoyable enough, from the admirable acting to cinematographer Checco Varese’s sweeping views of the Atacama Desert, to the lively score from James Horner (rest in peace). The miners are a likable if largely indistinguishable bunch, led by a very charismatic and charged Mario Sepúlveda, played by Antonio Banderas with aplomb aplenty.
There are moments representing real heartwarming humanity, as when we watch Camp Hope swell with visiting holy folk, villagers, and musicians, rallying around the miners’ survival. As the 33 miners’ story is a story now shared by the world, the movie is at its best when it unites all its diverse players, of all walks, under the rallying cry of hope. There are other notable moments, such as the interesting character wrinkles that subterranean entrapment unearths. One miner suffers addiction withdrawal, while others challenge Sepúlveda’s spotlight-stealing public persona, and there’s a whimsical hallucination scene.
But in trying to touch on every aspect of their plight above and below ground, the depths of their suffering and incredible endurance are not fully explored. The movie feels overlong and bland, akin to a commemorative plaque. The vague concepts of “hope” and “perseverance” are once again the winners, not the miners, who deserve a better movie. Maybe it’s a fool’s errand to mine for more depth from a movie whose chief aims are widespread viewer inspiration and the subsequent box-office profits, but if we continue to rely on heroism clichés alone, then the full truth of these stories will never be told.