“That's not a rock, that's the heart of the mountain. She finally broke.”
Five years ago the eyes of the entire South American population were placed on a relatively unknown small mining town in Chile. When the San Jose mine collapsed in Copiapo, 33 miners were trapped under more than 2000 feet, and the news travelled fast. It isn’t uncommon to hear about these tragic mining accidents, but what stood out here was that the family members never lost hope and established camp near the site to force authorities to not give up and continue the rescue efforts. After two and a half weeks of uncertainty and against all odds, the rescuers managed to contact the refuge in the mine where all 33 miners reported to be alive and well. That was just the beginning of a long and exhaustive rescue effort that would last more than two months, and that every media channel covered 24 hours a day. The story is recent and we all saw it take place live on our TV sets, so the real question I had for Patricia Riggen’s film was wether or not she could make this captivating enough to hold our interest despite the familiarity of the story. Surprisingly she succeeded. The film is deeply flawed and for commercial purposes it had an international cast that spoke in English with a forced Chilean accent. I hate movies that do this (if you want to tell the story in english then just have the actors speak in plain english; you’re not more convincing because you do it with an accent), but despite that pet peeve of mine, the film managed to draw me in emotionally and I found it to be a beautiful and honest tribute. I can understand those who criticize the movie because it isn’t perfect, but there were several emotional scenes where I literally had goose bumps all over my arms, and that is always an indicator for me that the movie is accomplishing its purpose.
One of the main characters in this film, the miner who kept the group together under those critical conditions, was Mario Sepulveda (Antonio Banderas). He never lost hope and promised the rest of his friends that he would keep them alive. His wife, Escarlette (Naomi Scott), was one of the supporters who decided to set camp outside the site to force authorities to continue their rescue efforts. The other main supporter was Maria Segovia (Juliette Binoche) who refused to believe that her brother, Dario (Juan Pablo Raba) was dead. Along with other family members and with the help of the media they put pressure on the government to save their lives. The Mining Minister, Laurence Golborne (Rodrigo Santoro), and mining expert, Andre Sougarret (Gabriel Byrne), were given the difficult task to come up with a plan to rescue these miners who were buried deep underground. Meanwhile under the heart of the mountain, Mario was in charge of keeping the group spirit alive and avoiding they end up driving each other crazy due to the lack of food and water. He lifted Alex’s (Mario Casas) spirit when he was falling into despair reminding him that his pregnant wife Jessica (Cote de Pablo) was waiting for him, he also protected the only Bolivian in the crew, Carlos Mamani (Tenoch Huerta), who was pushed aside by everyone else for being a foreigner, and he also encouraged Don Lucho (Lou Diamond Phillips), who felt had failed the team because he knew the security conditions were bad. Rigged delivers both sides of the story: the 33 miners struggling to survive from the inside and the family members and the rescue team fighting to save them from the outside.
I wasn’t really into the film during its first thirty minutes because I was upset the characters were speaking in English with Spanish accents (to make matters worse there is a scene where a famous Chilean TV star named Don Francisco shows up and gives a report in Spanish), but midway into the movie the emotional drama picks up. There is a superb scene in which the miners are imagining eating their last supper together, and it was one of the most touching scenes I’ve seen this year. The visual effects weren’t mesmerizing, but the collapse of the mine is believable. It takes a while to get used to the dark cinematography inside the mines where you can’t tell most of the characters apart from each other. I’d say there are only about five miners who you can recall from the film, the rest are just there and are given no personality whatsoever. Those are some of my minor complaints for this film, but other than that the material was handled respectfully and James Horner’s final musical composition helps build the emotional moments. Another memorable moment was when Cote de Pablo sings a beautiful song, Gracias a la Vida, while the families are awaiting for any news from the rescue team. Antonio Banderas delivers a great performance as Mario and he is one of the reasons why the dramatic moments worked so well. Despite knowing the story, it was still exciting and emotional to experience it in this flawed but touching film. There is also a funny and recurring gag on one of the miners (Oscar Nuñez) who had his wife and lover waiting for him in the camp. The film might not be entirely accurate, but it is still a well made film and a decent tribute.