The 33 review: A worthy take, undermined by some dodgy casting decisions

Claustrophobic tension and unexpectrd anglo-saxon appearances abound in this film about the 2010 Chilean mining accident

The 33
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Director: Patricia Riggen
Cert: 12A
Genre: Drama
Starring: Antonio Banderas, Rodrigo Santoro, Juliette Binoche, Gabriel Byrne, James Brolin, Lou Diamond Phillips
Running Time: 2 hrs 6 mins

Patricia Riggen’s film about the 2010 Chilean mining accident isn’t really worth travelling far to see. But it’s worth being nice to. Made with the cooperation of the survivors, it treats the men with dignity and recognises them as commonplace heroes. Tip your hat to it. Press a coin into its palm. Now move on.

The 33 has the shape of a traditional disaster movie. We begin by moving among a party of diverse characters, unaware of impending catastrophe. Mario (Antonio Banderas) is a decent provider who never has enough work. Don Lucho (Lou Diamond Phillips) is the fair-minded supervisor. Edison (Jacob Vargas) is an Elvis impersonator. And so forth.

The collapse of the mine is handled respectably enough: a great deal of dust obscures a great deal of clattering rock while much rumbling strains the sub-woofers. Mind you, anyone who has recently sat through The Revenant may find the experience just a little televisual.

Once trapped, the miners discover that the escape ladders run out some way before they reach the surface. The owners drag their heels, but the government – embarrassed by world attention – soon mounts the elaborate rescue we remember from the news coverage.


Though unavoidably murky, the scenes below ground have a claustrophobic tension to them. The over-reaching sequence in which, desperately low on rations, the men imagine themselves at a Biblical feast is best forgotten, but the underground actors work hard at injecting energy into every sepulchral exchange.

On the surface we encounter some frustratingly old-fashioned problems. In a month where the talk has been of diversity (or lack thereof) in Hollywood, the notion of a browned-up Juliette Binoche playing a humble Chilean street-food seller deserves the snorting it will undoubtedly trigger. There's more. Our own Gabriel Byrne, smeared a little less vigorously with Bisto, plays a local engineer. What can they all have been thinking?

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke, a contributor to The Irish Times, is Chief Film Correspondent and a regular columnist