From the Archives: The 33 review

From the Archives: The 33 review

In the interest of getting “hard” copies of my work under one roof, I plan to spend the next few weeks posting the entire archive of my film journalism here on ScullyVision. With due respect to the many publications I’ve written for, the internet remains quite temporary, and I’d hate to see any of my work disappear for digital reasons. As such, this gargantuan project must begin! I don’t want to do it. I hate doing it. But it needs to be done. Please note that my opinions, like everyone’s, have changed a LOT since I started, so many of these reviews will only represent a snapshot in time. Objectivity has absolutely no place in film criticism, at least not how I do it. 

Without further ado, I present to you: FROM THE ARCHIVES.
Originally posted on Cinema76.

The problem with a movie like The 33 is that, despite being a remarkable and triumphant story, it’s not very cinematic. By nature, there is just too much story to cram into two hours without making sacrifices to quality. The being said, The 33does meet itself in the middle and ends up being passable as a result. The title is a reference to the thirty-three Chilean miners (ok thirty-two were Chilean, one was Bolivian) who were trapped underground for roughly three months in 2010. This is very recent history, and I, for one, remember the day that they began lifting the men out via a jury-rigged elevator system. It was an exciting moment, and the world was watching. If I’m going to give this film some kudos, it will be for accurately capturing this moment. The months leading up to it, however, are a little underwhelming. Here’s why:

First and foremost, the film tries to tell too many stories. There’s the underground survival story, the above ground “fighting the bureaucracy story,” the story of miners’ families trying to set up camp at the drill site, and a handful of background stories for a select few of the miners. It’s just too much to effectively portray in a limited running time. As a miniseries this could have been compelling, but as a film it’s a bit numbing.

Secondly, bouncing between these settings (the cave, the camp, and the drill site) breaks up the flow of each individual piece. Right when we’re starting to feel claustrophobic with the miners we’re whisked away and asked to feel empathy toward their families. Right when we get all weepy-eyed with the families, we’re tasked with getting angry at the mining company. Each piece is never given time to simmer, and it makes what could be a series of effective gut punches seem tired.

Finally, it’s a story we all know. Since most of the audience is likely to remember this event, the film absolutely must have compelling character work to validate its existence. Unfortunately, The 33 doesn’t.


But it’s not all bad! In fact, I rather enjoyed it, even if it’s not stellar. It is exciting. It isquite nice to be reminded about how wonderful humanity can be when we use our minds and hearts in conjunction with each other. The film has a lot of warmth and humor to even out the drama. The cave-in sequence is exciting and quite well done, as is the eventual rescue. The actors all do solid work with what they’re given (especially Lou Diamond Phillips, who seems to be having a bit of a well-deserved career resurgence). And even though the film is ultimately weak, it’s never boring.

The 33 should have been a TV miniseries or a documentary, but when it is inevitably shown to high school social studies students by a teacher seeking a relevant, harmless, and historically accurate movie to help coast through a hungover Friday, it will properly shine.

The 33 opens in Philly area theaters today.

Official site.

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