Ripping a story from the headlines can make the unbelievable undeniable–which is certainly the case with The 33, director Patricia Riggen’s nail-biter about the trapped Chilean gold and copper miners of 2010. The world may have seen the outcome, but it’s still convincing, a story of courage without platitudes, and it features one of Antonio Banderas’ best performances in years. That the film is in English feels like pandering–would it kill Americans to read subtitles?–as does the surface drama involving the miners’ loved ones (Juliette Binoche, Kate del Castillo, Cote de Pablo), who wait and wait and wait, witnessing corporate incompetence and political panic. It’s all a little too earnest and noble.
We also get the geological wizardry of the stalwart engineers (Gabriel Byrne, James Brolin) and the idealism of the young Mining Minister (Rodrigo Santoro), persuading his government to take up the rescue. But mostly The 33 is about the 33, fighting off fear, despair and the urge to kill each other, and staying alive for 69 days on food meant for three. It’s also a cry against mining deregulation, but that’s so obvious that Riggen doesn’t need to hit it with a hammer.
This appears in the November 23, 2015 issue of TIME.
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