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Movie review: Earthly sounds provide dramatic soundtrack for ‘The 33’

Zounds — the sounds in “The 33.”

The sounds of hundreds of thousands of tons of rock rumbling, grinding, groaning above 33 miners trapped deep underground by a catastrophic mine collapse in a remote region of Chile on Aug. 5, 2010.

Seldom have the state-of-the-art sound systems found these days in modern multiplexes been as crucial to enhancing a filmmaker’s purpose as they are with respect to “The 33.”

The ominous sounds of the restless earth are constant reminders of the peril the miners face, reminders that while death has been delayed, the possibility of rescue is vanishingly small — less than 1 percent, in the estimation of an engineer on the surface played by Gabriel Byrne. Entombed with minimal food and water, they will slowly succumb to starvation if a final spasm of the mine doesn’t claim them first.

The outcome of the episode is known — all were rescued after 69 days underground while a rapt world watched on TV — but director Patricia Riggen keeps the tension high with those omnipresent sonic cues.

Working from a screenplay based on author Hector Tobar’s true-life account of the incident, “Deep Down Dark” (written with the miners’ cooperation), Riggen splits the movie’s time between the miners and the people on the surface: loved ones, engineers and government officials, most notably Laurence Golborne (an earnest Rodrigo Santoro), Chile’s minister of mining who quarterbacks the rescue effort.

The picture chronicles the ebbing of hope as days extend to weeks. Despair grips the families, and frustration plagues the rescuers as they futilely drill holes, trying to locate the chamber where the men are trapped.

In the mine, the men, led by a character played by Antonio Banderas, fight to resist despair. They carefully ration their meager food stocks — a few cans of tuna and packages of cookies — they pray and they listen ... listen to the shifting rock above and listen for the sounds of drilling that could signal their salvation. When the latter sound is heard at long last, and when a drill bit breaks through to their chamber, one more sound is heard in “The 33”: exultant cheers, below ground and above.

When they’re finally brought to the surface, one by one in a specially designed capsule, the cheers are deafening.

THE 33

3 stars out of 5

Cast: Antonio Banderas, Rodrigo Santoro, Gabriel Byrne, Lou Diamond Phillips.

Director: Patricia Riggen.

Running time: 2 hours.

Rated: PG-13, for a disaster sequence and some language.

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