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Family Movie Review: The 33 (PG-13)

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MPAA Rating: PG-13       Length: 127 minutes

Age Appropriate For: 14+. The film is about the 2010 Chilean mining accident, so if claustrophobia is a problem for you, then skip this. Some cursing; some kissing, cleavage, and talk about marital infidelity (you see a man stumbling out of the home of his mistress, and being confronted by his wife); an alcoholic character who drinks and then goes through withdrawal; some Christian themes; some emotionally heavy stuff (characters consider suicide); some light violence (a woman punches a man, another pair of women engage in a shoving match); and some gross-out stuff, like the miners drinking dirty water and eating old food.

The 2010 Chilean mining accident gets the dramatic treatment with ‘The 33,’ which focuses on the struggle of the men to stay alive underground. The film’s performances and strong themes make it a solid family choice.

By Roxana Hadadi

There are some movies that pander to families, like this week’s other new release “Love the Coopers,” and there are some movies that are bound to work for multigenerational audiences not because of their all-star casts, their product placement, or their obvious, Hallmark-card sentimentality but because of the very real sense of life they exude. They ooze feeling without fluff. “The 33” is that kind of movie—an earnest choice for this holiday season that will work for families of all kinds.

Perhaps you remember the 2010 Chilean mining accident, in which a gold and copper mine collapsed in San Jose, Chile, trapping all 33 workers—mostly from the nearby town Copiapó—inside. The story captured international attention as the days ticked by, and this film is based on the nonfiction book “Deep Down Dark” by Héctor Tobar, a journalist who extensively interviewed the miners about what happened more than 2,000 feet underground. What emerges in the film is a variety of portraits, a cast of characters, a group of men who had to trust each other with their lives. Trusting themselves wasn’t enough.

“The 33” introduces its main players early: Vivacious, energetic Mario (Antonio Banderas, of “The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water”); observant, intelligent Luis (Lou Diamond Phillips); soon-to-be-father Alex (Mario Casas); Elvis Presley impersonator Edison (Jacob Vargas, of “Heaven is for Real”); alcoholic nihilist Darío (Juan Pablo Raba); charming philanderer Yonni (Oscar Nuñez); and the Bolivian newcomer Mamani (Tenoch Huerta, of “Spectre”). They all work together in the mine, built in 1889, searching for gold and copper thousands of feet underground, under tons of mountain that is constantly, infinitesimally moving.

Until one day when the moving kicks into high gear and a huge portion of the mine collapses, trapping all 33 men working that shift inside, with a huge rock—twice as big as the Empire State Building—blocking their exit. The mining company didn’t build the emergency ladders that would help them climb out, nor did they provide a first-aid kit, nor did they provide food or water for more than three days. All signs point to disaster—and for the families the men have left behind, things aren’t any easier.

Without any information from the mining company, the families turn to the government. Can they reach the men, let alone rescue them? And against all these odds, how can the men stay alive down there without abandoning all hope?

From the beginning, “The 33” succeeds by humanizing most of these men, dropping in the kinds of details that make them true people: as the new guy and a foreigner, Mamani is hazed by his coworkers, who deny him a lamplight down in the dark; Mario, who becomes a de facto leader for them, struggles with what that responsibility entails; Luis, the shift leader, uses his knowledge of cartography to determine exactly where they are in the mine and what the outside rescuers would need to do to save them. There is a respect for each man that is evident in this script, and each scene builds your empathy and your anger. 

The performances can veer into campy—as is especially Banderas’s tendency lately—but the struggle of the men, desperate for survival, and their families, desperate for news, feel very, very real. Even if you know how this story ends, you’ll be engrossed by how these men are feeling, thinking, living down there. A scene toward the end, where the men imagine the feasts they would have with their loved ones instead of the tuna water they’re actually drinking, is resonant and tragic.

In some ways, “The 33” is a Message Movie, where family members demand of the Chilean government “Why isn’t anybody doing anything?” and international newscasts are included to stress the scope of this story. But it hits some some very real emotional beats, too, and this Thanksgiving, “The 33” would be a worthwhile pick for family viewing—a reminder of all we’re lucky to have.

Interested in a previously released film? Read our reviews of films already showing in your local theater.

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