In August 2010, a story from Chile captured the imagination of the world. Thirty three miners were trapped inside a century-old gold and copper mine deep below the Atacama Desert. They survived in these claustrophobic and life-threatening conditions for over two months. More than two months after being buried 200 stories below ground, they were rescued and reunited with their families.

Based on the book Deep Down Dark by Hector Tobar, written by Jose Rivera and directed by Patricia Riggen, The 33 was filmed on location in the Atacama Desert and within two real Colombian mines. This is a compelling story of triumph of the will, resilience, teamwork, and the psychological effects of being stuck underground without food or the assurance of making it out alive.

Following a textbook structure of a disaster film, the movie opens with quick introductions to the principal characters – an elderly miner two weeks from retirement, a young miner awaiting the birth of his first child, a drug addict, a Bolivian immigrant, a pastor and a womaniser. The staging of the accident is followed by scenes that are alternately set below and above the ground. Antonio Banderas plays Mario Sepúlveda, who becomes the leader of the 33. Lou Diamond Phillips plays Luis Urzua, the supervisor wracked by guilt when the mountain caves in, endangering lives he was responsible for.

This is as much a story about survival and hanging on to a fine thread of hope as it is about the families above the ground, who never give up and relentlessly pressurise the government. Juliette Binoche plays a sister determined to rescue her brother. Then there are the teams of engineers and rescuers working day and night to bore down the height of two Empire State buildings (more than 2,000 feet at 94 degrees) without any idea if anyone is still alive. The mission is championed by Minister of Mines Laurence Golborne (Rodrigo Santoro).

There is plenty of drama and suspense in this true-life story, but the screenplay relies too heavily on formula and is swathed in Hollywood sentimentality. The performances are uneven, while some actors are simply miscast. Though the lighting, camerawork and music are noteworthy, you hardly feel the stifling hopelessness that is bound to have affected the mental state of at least a few of the men. In the end, it’s the news story that remains with you rather than its commercialised cinematic dramatisation.