Antonio Banderas delivers a commanding performance as "Super" Mario Sepúlveda, the leader of a group of 33 miners at the San José Mine. In the decade preceding the 2010 collapse of the copper-gold mine, there had been numerous accidents and even fatalities. The writing seemed to be on the wall, but crews were still sent in to work the unstable mine. The collapse occurs early in the film's first act, before we really get a chance to know the miners, but we do glimpse their family lives very briefly. Soon, after a piece of rock the "height of the Empire State Building" (or, as Mario calls it, "the heart of the mountain") crashed into the mine complex, the 33 are trapped some 2,300 feet below ground level. By sheer luck (and quick instincts on the part of the trained miners), the entire group survives and huddles in a shelter stocked with limited supplies.
One weakness of director Riggen's storytelling approach stems from the back-and-forth nature by which she depicts the troubled rescue efforts and the conditions within the mine. It becomes a bit plodding as we regularly check in with folks like André Sougarret (Gabriel Byrne), an engineer who planned the rescue operations, and drill operator Jeff Hart (James Brolin). The surface-level heroes (not to mention the politicians and bureaucrats who hindered the rescue efforts) are important components of the story, but Riggen seems at a loss for how to fully dramatize the politicized and money-driven struggle.
It's the miners themselves that hold the most interest; how they survived, how they related to one another. They were discovered after 17 days, but remained underground for a total of 69 days. The fact that they were discovered relatively early in their ordeal creates somewhat of an anti-climax situation as the rescue slowly moves forward. Again, Riggen stumbles at times while attempting to keep the tension high (the "hallucinatory" enactments meant to convey the miners' state of mind while trapped feel more pedestrian than nightmarish).
Warner Bros.' Blu-ray presentation offers a strong high definition transfer of Checco Varese's cinematography and a DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround mix that is most interesting during the big collapse sequence. The soundtrack also nicely showcases the late James Horner's score (the second-to-last of his long career). Special features include the featurettes "The Mine Collapse" and "The 33: The World Was Watching."
Overall, The 33 is sturdy enough to overcome its deficits and remains an honorable tribute to the 33 men who overcame nearly insurmountable odds, plus the ingenious workers who planned a risky rescue that could've gone wrong at any moment.