What is most remarkable about the 33 workers trapped in a gold mine thousands of feet below the Chilean desert isn’t that they were safely rescued after 69 days, but that throughout their ordeal the men somehow managed to keep their sanity, maintain their dignity and refused to let basal survival instincts devolve them into thuggish “Lord of the Flies” behavior.
In 2010, the Copiapó mining accident captivated the world as personalities from NBC’s Brian Williams to “gigante” television celebrity Don Francisco provided up-to-the-minute reports on rescue efforts. But that attention, and the hope which it brought, came only after 17 long days of families pleading with mine owners and Chilean officials to continue the search long after meager provisions in the so-called “refuge” chamber 2,300 feet below ground could sustain them.
Based on the book, “Deep Down Dark: The Untold Stories of 33 Men Buried in a Chilean Mine, and the Miracle That Set Them Free” by Héctor Tobar — whom the miners collectively agreed upon to chronicle their plight — “The 33” stars Antonio Banderas (“Philadelphia,” “Desperado”) as “Super” Mario Sepúlveda, the group’s de facto leader, and Lou Diamond Phillips (“La Bamba,” “Stand and Deliver”) as Luis Urzúa, the shift foreman whose familiarity with the mines was instrumental in their rescue.
Real-life survival dramas that demonstrate will over adversity, like “127 Hours” and “Alive,” are a reliable genre and this one has all the requisite elements: international drilling teams race against an unstable mine while a rock twice the size of the Empire State Building perches precipitously above the crew’s cavernous safe room.
Director Patricia Riggen establishes the inherent dangers that come with working so deep into the earth that the men need to travel on a shuttle for an hour each way through the tunnels. An opening card reads, “12,000 miners die every year in accidents,” many of which can no doubt be attributed to safety gaps like those that added to the near-disaster here. Ventilation chimneys were blocked. Emergency ladders were incomplete. Intercoms were not connected. Yet miraculously, after more than two months underground, one by one, a small rescue pod carried them up through an emergency shaft to a cheering public camped for the duration nearby.
A triumph of determination and spirituality, the story of these 33 is one that deserved to be told and here is well-told.