When Faith, Determination, & Ingenuity Saved Lives: A Review of “The 33”

When Faith, Determination, & Ingenuity Saved Lives: A Review of “The 33” November 13, 2015

The33I choose to believe we’ll all get out.

So says Mario Sepulveda (Antonio Banderas) to his fellow miners in the new movie “The 33,” which was inspired by the true story of the 33 Chileans who became trapped 2,300 feet underground when the mine in which they were working collapsed in 2010.

The film takes viewers not only into the miners’ experiences, but also the uphill battle their families and loved ones had to fight to get the mining company and government to make rescue efforts.

Those latter parts of the story can be especially maddening because the mining company simply accepts the idea that their employees deaths are acceptable losses. For instance, early in the film, when miner Don Lucho (Lou Diamond Phillips) tells his boss that the mountain is shifting and there is a weakness in the structure, the boss doesn’t care. He orders them in anyway because money needs to be made.

The miners, however, know they’re working a dangerous job. They make the sign of the cross in front of a small statue of the Virgin Mary at the mine entrance, and there’s a shrine to fallen miners on the road down. You’ve heard it said that there are no atheists in foxholes. Well, there are no atheists in Chilean coal mines either.

The mine collapses in a riveting scene that will leave you admiring the courage of anyone who puts himself in that kind of danger. Sepulveda, who is the moral and spiritual leader of this crew, remains hopeful that they will be saved and does all he can to keep their outlook positive and everyone getting along. Inevitably, cracks in that unity surface, making his job even harder.

Meanwhile on the surface, the miners’ family members know something has gone wrong, but the mine’s boss refuse to tell them anything. He even puts up a fence and hires armed guards to keep them away. This just adds to the families’ rage – and that of viewers also.

A furious Maria Segovia (Juliette Binoche), the sister of miner Dario Segovia, rallies the families to demand rescue teams and uses the media to shame the mining company and government into complying. Finally, government official Laurence Golborne (Rodrigo Santoro) arrives on the scene and is moved to action by the pain and suffering he sees in the faces of women and children desperate to get their loved ones back. The rescuers encounter one obstacle after another, but ingenuity and hard work ultimately save the day.

Banderas provides the charisma needed to play Sepulveda, while Phillips and “The Office’s” Oscar Nunez stand out as well. With 33 miners, they can’t all be adequately fleshed out, but director Patricia Riggen does a capable job of giving them points of distinction and relatability. In addition, she does an excellent job of creating tension in a movie we already know will have a happy ending.

The film’s focus on faith is another positive aspect. The miners turn to prayer for strength and re-enact a meal reminiscent of the Last Supper. And when an alcoholic miner going through withdrawal admits he doesn’t know how to pray for help, a friend tells him that God doesn’t care what words he uses – then the two pray together.

“The 33” is a testament to the human spirit not only in relation to the miners’ survival, but also the determination it took to save them. The odds were totally against their ever seeing the light of day again, yet they are alive today and even featured in the closing credits. In other words, “The 33” is a movie that will leave you feeling hopeful. That’s a pretty good way to spend two hours.

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