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The 33

(2015) ** Pg-13
127 min. Warner Bros. Pictures. Director: Patricia Riggen. Cast: Antonio Banderas, Rodrigo Santoro, Juliette Binoche, Lou Diamond Phillips, Bob Gunton, Gabriel Byrne, James Brolin, Oscar Nunez, Juan Pablo Raba, Jacob Vargas.

/content/films/4853/1.jpgIn Billy Wilder’s 1951 classic Ace in the Hole, Kirk Douglas’ mercenary reporter remarks of a man trapped in a cave collapse, “You pick up the paper, you read about 84 men or 284, or a million men, like in a Chinese famine. You read it, but it doesn't stay with you. One man's different, you want to know all about him. That's human interest.” Well, The 33 has, err, 33 men to drum up human interest in the story of the 2010 Chilean copper-gold mine accident, which may be 32 men too many to stay with you.

Based on Héctor Tobar’s book Deep Down Dark, The 33 unfolds in Chile’s Atacama Desert, where the San José Mine suffered a mountainous cave-in trapping the titular group of workers 2300 feet below the ground. Management ignored warnings of a rock fall, and screenwriters Mikko Alanne, Craig Borten, and Michael Thomas (along with story-credited José Rivera) devote a significant portion of the story to the damage control of the mining company and the Chilean government, represented by President Sebastián Piñera (Bob Gunton) and his man on the ground, Minister of Mining Laurence Golborne (Rodrigo Santoro). As for the 33, they have something of a de facto leader in Mario "Super Mario" Sepúlveda (Antonio Banderas), whose big personality also becomes a magnet for media attention once the cave-in becomes a national, then swiftly global, news story.

Yes, not unlike in Ace in the Hole, something of a circus descends on the mine, first with family and friends clamoring for rescue and information and later with TV crews breathlessly reporting the drama and science of the accident and the rescue efforts. At the mine’s gates, María Segovia (Juliette Binoche)—sister of alcoholic miner Darío Segovia (Juan Pablo Raba)—becomes the loudest voice representing the families, and director Patricia Riggen plays Binoche’s scenes with Santoro for a weird intimation of romantic possibility (though the real Golborne had a wife and kids at home). For all this, and a broken drill bit here or there (with engineers Gabriel Byrne and James Brolin), The 33’s best shot at drama remains inside the mine, with characters like Lou Diamond Phillips’s guilt-wracked shift foreman, the miners’ Elvis-loving song leader (Jacob Vargas), and a miner (Oscar Nunez of The Office) whose personal comedy of a competing wife and mistress makes great copy for the media.

The 33 throws this and a whole lot more at the wall, but nothing much sticks. Though the film is technically a U.S.-Chile co-production, the Hollywoodization of the story is thick. While that’s good when it comes to the elaborate recreation of the site, it’s difficult to square the grayer, chubbier Chileans of real life (and filmed for a coda here) with the younger, more photogenic “33” of the film, played entirely in English by a dubious swath of mostly non-Chilean actors (and, seriously folks, check out those abs on Phillips). Banderas gives another entertainingly overripe performance, and Phillips is genuinely affecting in radiating the pain behind his eyes, but there’s too much stilted acting here and too little psychological insight to render an interesting, or even credibly true, story of humanity in crisis.

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