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Movie will have you rooting for ‘The 33’

“The 33” is an uplifting movie that needed to be made, and made exactly as it is – linear, simple, emotional and detached just enough to make its horrifying ordeal bearable. Don’t miss it. And bring Kleenex because the ending will get you in the most beautiful way.

It is the incredible true story of 33 Chilean miners trapped thousands of feet underground in 2010 for two agonizing months. The desperate efforts to locate and attempt to rescue them are recalled in parallel with the miners struggling to survive and maintain their sanity in what could be their tomb.

Whether you recall the actual outcome of the events or not, this movie isn’t really about the endgame. It’s about endurance and committing to survival.

The film begins in sepia tones, in a cheerful Chilean town populated with cheerful families whose loved ones provide for them by going deep into the earth to mine for copper and gold.

There is the clichéd foreboding, with the mine boss ignoring the warning signs from foreman Luis “Don Lucho” Urzua (played with gritty vulnerability by Lou Diamond Phillips), but there is gold in them thar holes, and by golly send those guys down there anyway. And oh, by the way, the quota just went up so dig even harder.

But suddenly the earth caves in on the 33 men almost 2,000 feet below ground, and in a spectacularly understated but no less breathtaking mine collapse, the film really begins. And you’re hooked.

Director Patricia Riggen takes a very straightforward approach with the film blocked almost like a Broadway play, but it works. The mine collapse didn’t need to be 10 minutes of James Cameron CGI, and the harsh reality of the situation doesn’t require Alfred Hitchcock putting us behind the headlamp in the miner’s head. This movie is about heart and spirit, not psychology or special effects.

As it is, there are some pretty gut-wrenching moments. For being a world-watched event, the screenplay (based on journalist Hector Tobar’s book “Deep Down Dark”) does a great job of building the frightening case against the miners’ chances of survival, and the absolute miracle – or series of miracles – it would take to get to them and pull them out alive.

There is an almost butterfly-like visitation upon several main characters’ points of view, but it works because we end up caring about everyone. Mario Sepulveda, played by a scene-chewing Antonio Banderas, emerges quickly as the leader below. We follow a fiery Juliette Binoche as a miner’s sister who leads the fight above ground for the initial rescue efforts, which leads to the growing determination of the Chilean Minister of Mining, played with doe-eyed heart by Rodrigo Santoro, which leads to engineer Andre Sougarret (Gabriel Byrne) starting the drilling efforts, and so on. We root for them all, and there are plenty of tear-jerking moments where it all pays off.

Some of the best scenes in the movie are between the miners in their claustrophobic quarters. The exhausting cycle of determination, execution, hope, failure, disappointment, and restarting the whole thing over again begin to take its toll on the men. As their food supply runs out, they realize that this may be it for them. They best articulate the film’s themes of human endurance and the inner and outer conflicts that these men had to overcome to survive 69 days caught between a gargantuan rock and a dark place.

Not much time is spent describing what consequences did or didn’t befall the mining company for their described negligence. But that is not the reason this movie was made. There is no human villain here. The villains are time and the mountain. This is the miners’ story.

“The 33” reminds us that all those faraway global news stories we click by every day are actually about real people – fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, sons, daughters, families. Loved ones. Humanity. I can’t think of a better reason to go to the movies.

The 33

3.5 stars

Starring: Antonio Banderas, Rodrigo Santoro, Juliette Binoche.

Director: Patricia Riggen

Running time: 127 minutes

Rating: PG-13 for language, mature themes.

The Lowdown: The true story of 33 miners trapped deep in a Chilean mine, and the desperate efforts to rescue them.

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