If you want to tell a story about a group of people who, for whatever reasons, are stuck with each other’s company in a limited space for a long period of times, there are a number of ways to do it. You can go “The Breakfast Club” route and have lots of personal revelations and psychological warfare among the characters, which is good if no one actually has their life put at risk. Another path is to turn the whole thing into a sitcom and have situations in which the audience is either laughing with or at the characters. Or you can take circumstances that would arise naturally with these people, depending on their personalities, problems and quirks, and let the drama emerge naturally. Blending all three also works, and at least gives the audience a release from non-stop drama.
The movie “33,” which tells the true-life story of that many Chilean miners, who found themselves trapped in a San Jose mine for sixty-nine days while the world watched their plight, doubtless praying for them and their families, opts for the last route Fortunately, the miners got some practical assistance, too, as crews worked around the clock to drill down and extricate the crew. Props also go to the men themselves who, besides managing not to strangle each other, survived on a starvation rations, as well as aided the efforts from down below. Another ally (at least in this movie) is a young government minister, played by Rodrigo Santoro, who coordinates the rescue and attempts to calm the miners’ families who are camping out nearby. Leading the families’ efforts to a) get the truth about what is happening, and b) prod the rescue crew into not giving up, is a sister of one of the miners, played by Juliette Binoche, who also does an excellent job. And all the actors who play the miners manage to convey the courage and determination of their characters, even when shot in a half light, with heavy facial stubble and a head lamp.
The crew who heads down to what they believe to be just another day of work have their own issues of varying degrees of seriousness, which are handled without too much mawkishness. One man (the ultimate irony) is about to retire and has the papers to prove it. Another man is dealing with alcoholism; and another is caught between his wife and mistress (which becomes tabloid fodder once the men’s plight becomes public). There’s a line where one of the crew aboveground exclaims that two of the miners are dealing with mood disorders, but when the conflict becomes physical, this does not appear to be a factor. There’s also guilt from the team leader who attempts to tell his boss about certain dangers of this particular mine but is brushed off and takes them down anyway. Fortunately, there is a happy ending. The men and their helpers triumph, not because they are necessarily the smartest people in the room, but because of a combination of brains, heart and courage. While recent movies like “Steve Jobs” explores the conflict of the misfit genius, “33” is a testament to how “ordinary” people can work together to bring about miracles.