Saturday, November 14, 2015

"The 33": The Good Moments Fall Through The Cracks

Now In Theaters
I can’t think of a film in recent memory that felt so internally polarizing to me.  The 33 is at times quite effective and at others bafflingly amateur, but it is never what one would call mediocre.  The juxtaposition of these qualities makes for an emotional rollercoaster, but not one that is based on investment in the film itself; rather, it’s incredible shifts from good to bad alternately pull one in and out of the film to the point where it is disorienting to try and evaluate whether what you just watched was objectively any good or not.  In short, this film is incredibly uneven, which is why I cannot recommend it.

The 33 is the story of the Chilean miners who were trapped underground in 2010 after the unsafe working conditions of their mine caused a collapse.  With enough rations for three days, the miners must fight to survive with what little they have until the Chilean government can drill through to their rescue.  However, even once that is accomplished, the daunting task of actually extracting the men from the mine still looms heavily over the proceedings.

What this film excels at most is framing the tension of the situation in such a way that makes it easy to forget the inevitable happy ending that will arrive for the struggling band of brothers.  Starting with the collapse of the mine, the near certainty that at least one of these men is going to die is ever present, and yet the miraculous revelation that they all survive is not any less sweet for having realized it with foreknowledge of real life events.  Then, as the men struggle to survive on a minimum of food, the tension remains high as both the drillers up top and the miners below bemoan the impossibility of their situation.  This is driven home by an excellent performance by Antonio Banderas as Mario, a miner to whom leadership has been thrust upon, yet wants nothing more than to keep everyone alive and from tearing each other apart.

However, once you start looking at the characters, the film starts to fall apart due to how shallowly realized they all are.  As well as Banderas portrays Mario, he isn’t defined by much more than his de facto leadership status, and doesn’t seem to exhibit much personality beyond that.  The other miners fare even worse, as they fill in the stock archetypes of the struggling alcoholic, the man with the pregnant wife, the new guy, the old man days away from retirement, and so on and so forth.  It is understandable that in order to portray this many characters it is necessary to make them readily identifiable, but that should not come at the expense of character depth, a problem that could be rectified by simply deigning not to focus on so many of them as named characters and instead explore the personalities of those most important to the narrative.

But what ultimately makes this film unforgivable is the shockingly bad direction during key moments, primarily when the film attempts to inject comic relief.  There are sequences that feel forced and awkward, in particular a shared hallucinatory experience as the miners are starving to death that feels very inappropriately played for laughs.  Furthermore, the score of this film is atrociously poorly timed, with chipper and uplifting music playing at the most bizarrely dreary moments, completely pulling you from the experience.  There are some things this film does quite well, but none of those are enough to justify the price of admission, because even without the major missteps this film would only be serviceable.  If you’re interested, wait for a rental.  Otherwise, give this one a pass.

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