Austin Film Festival Review: The 33


Director:Patricia Riggen

Cast:Antonio Banderas, James Brolin, Juliette Binoche

Running Time:125 Minutes


Patricia Riggen, in her third feature-length directorial effort, ventures outside of her comfort zone to take on thirty-three miners in the highly emotional true-story flick The 33.

Tackling the true story surrounding the thirty-three miners who were trapped for over two months below hundreds of feet of rock, Riggen works to create something uplifting, inspirational and heartwarming.  Utilizing the story's sensitive side, she tries to steer clear of the violence, focusing instead on the love and heartache that was ever present as a result of the 2010 disaster.

But somewhere in the process the story itself is given the Hollywood treatment, turning the true account into a run of clichés and over-the-top stereotypes, deterring from the overall message and offering up nothing more than a glamorized disaster popcorn flick.

Based on the novel by Hector Tobar, The 33 works hard to mesh the events that took place both above and below ground after the mountain caved in.  And while the back and forth was surprisingly fluid, it isn't able to overcome the film's overly simplistic and painfully straight forward story.

Antonio Banderas and James Brolin are on top of their game, doing what they can to deliver the riveting story on which the film is based; however, they are unable to overcome abysmal dialogue and underdeveloped characters to give the film the pulse necessary to engage.

At the beginning, the flawed scene is set as we find ourselves at a party to celebrate the upcoming retirement of one of the miners.  Families are enjoying a feast as they mingle, allowing us a snapshot of the players that will pull at our heartstrings over the next two hours.  And while I am not entirely sure as to the situations of the real miners"¦I highly doubt that they would check all the necessary boxes that Riggen and company exploit for the sake of simplifying the path to the human heart.

I did find the government's involvement in the rescue to be intriguing, and Juliette Binoche helps to anchor the events taking place outside of the cold, dark mountain.  Her relationship with her brother is one of the most tender, authentic ties within the entire film.  And while there are several links between those above and below ground, you find yourself anxious for good news, for her sake.

The film does paint a broader picture on just how rare a rescue of this magnitude is and that none of the men should have ever survived.  And while Riggen fully encompasses the high emotions that exist with the men's families who await word, she misses the mark in her portrait of the events within the mountain.  Only briefly touching on the high tensions and frustrations that come with little water, even less food, and a confined space, she fails to truly magnify the hellish conditions and struggles these men went through on a day-to-day basis.

Ultimately, while The 33 would have worked better as a small, character-driven film, it will likely have more financial success in its current state.  It is a far cry from a good film, but throwing accuracy to the wind, it is a satisfying piece of Hollywood laced entertainment.  My main issue"¦it could have been so much more.


About Stephen Davis

Stephen Davis
I owe this hobby/career to the one and only Stephanie Peterman who, while interning at Fox, told me that I had too many opinions and irrelevant information to keep it all bottled up inside. I survived my first rated R film, Alive, at the ripe age of 8, it took me months to grasp the fact that Julia Roberts actually died at the end of Steel Magnolias, and I might be the only person alive who actually enjoyed Sorority Row…for its comedic value of course. While my friends can drink you under the table, I can outwatch you when it comes iconic, yet horrid 80s films like Adventures in Babysitting and Troop Beverly Hills. I have no shame when it comes to what I like, and if you have a problem with that, then we’ll settle it on the racquetball court. I see too many movies to actually win any film trivia contest, so don’t waste your first pick on me. My friends rent movies from my bookcase shelves, and one day I do plan to start charging. I long to live in LA, where my movie obsession will actually help me fit in, but for now I am content with my home in Austin. I prefer indies to blockbusters, Longhorns to Sooners and Halloween to Friday the 13th. I miss the classics, as well as John Ritter, and I hope to one day sit down and interview the amazing Kate Winslet.

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