The 33

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The 33 —-emotional, visually impressive true story of the Chilean miners trapped 2,300 feet underground after the mountain they were mining for gold shifted. The world watched rescue efforts for 60 days as the men survived on thimblefuls of dank water and canned tuna (until that ran out).

Directed by Patricia Riggen, the 2015 dramatization has the difficult job of generating tension in a story that has a foregone ending, but then that’s been the case for dramas about everything from the Alamo to James Bond: you know the end, so the pull is in the details and through engagement with the characters.

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Here, the details come across best with the fine special effects and art direction, creating the underground labyrinth and the thundering terror of the cave-in.  Sound crew did a smashing job.  James Horner’s (final) score is minimal. Shot on location in Colombia and at the actual setting in Chile: the mine is located in the spectacular barrenness of the Atacama Desert.

Acting is committed, with strong work from Antonio Banderas, Rodrigo Santoro, Juliette Binoche and Lou Diamond Phillips (his best turn in years).

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The script is just okay, workmanlike enough to get the story points across without reinventing the wheel for disaster drama, but it nonetheless suffers from connect-the-dots syndrome, dealing with the expected worries, outbursts and heart-tugs associated with this sort of true-life survival opus.  Critical and box-office response was muted, the $24,900,000 take marked as a failure against a cost of $26,000,000.

Nudge deja vu aside.  If you’re so spoiled by special effects magic that the cave-in leaves you shrugging, you’d probably be a bummer on a picnic as well and you’d have to be a real sourpuss not to get a little uplift from the resolution. The capper, with footage of the real 33—all still ‘brothers’—has genuine warmth.

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127 minutes, with Gabriel Byrne (miscast), Jacob Vargas, James Brolin, Bob Gunton (another odd casting decision), Mario Cosas, Tenoch Huerta, Juan Pablo Raba and Kate del Castillo.

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