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Review: Papillon (TIFF)

Papillon (TIFF)
09.09.2017
8 10

PLOT: The true story of Henri Charriere (Charlie Hunnam) and his life as an inmate on Devil’s Island, where he meets fellow prisoner Louis Dega (Rami Malek) and plans an escape.

REVIEW: PAPILLON is a remake of Franklin J. Schaffner’s classic 1973 Steve McQueen vehicle, which saw the king of cool cast as real-life French thief Henri Charriere, who’s sent to a penal colony in French Guyana, where he befriends a rich, white-collar criminal (originally played by Dustin Hoffman), who’s hidden money in his intestines and offers to bankroll his escape attempts for protection. With writer Dalton Trumbo back in vogue after his biopic, and McQueen never out of style, it makes sense that someone would come along to remake it, but like other McQueen remakes, it’s a dangerous thing to try as no one’s ever quite been able to match his presence.

Star Charlie Hunnam, however, gives it his best shot, and it ranks with THE LOST CITY OF Z as a strong big-screen vehicle for the former “Sons of Anarchy” star. Wisely not imitating any of McQueen’s mannerisms, he holds his own in what’s actually quite a decent remake, even if it does follow the original very closely. A bit more streamlined, in that it’s about fifteen minutes shorter, and drops a few episodes, PAPILLON otherwise follows all the beats of the original, only diverting in that you see a bit more of Henri’s pre-prison life, with him shown to be in love with a gangster’s moll played by “The Knick’s” Eve Hewson.

Hunnam definitively has the right physical presence for the part, acing some of the more violent episodes, even if he’s never as unpredictable as the great McQueen. Still, he never tries to do an impression, and he shows more star quality here, under the direction of Danish filmmaker Michael Noer, than anything else he’s done so far.

I’m now going to throw something in that’s controversial - this new PAPILLON actually improves on the original in one way. Rami Malek is actually better as Dega than Hoffman was. In the original film, Hoffman delivers a highly mannered performance that felt like a reaction to McQueen’s natural-charisma, and it’s the part of the film that hasn’t aged well. Malek is far more subtle, especially as Dega starts to lose his grip in the later episodes of the film. There’s no scenery chewing, and the chemistry between them is stronger than in the original, as you buy the friendship. In the ‘73 film, you kept rooting for McQueen to ditch Dega, here, you actually care about both of them. They also actually depict Devil’s Island, something they never did in the original, limiting the scope to the colony in Guyana.

Its strengths aside, I’d still say the original PAPILLON is better, with McQueen hard to top in one of his best roles, not to mention the amazing Jerry Goldsmith score, and some memorably lyrical moments from Schaffner that were an interesting contrast to the grittier parts. Still, as far as remakes go, this is quite a good one, in that it’s clearly made by people who understand the strengths and weaknesses of the original. McQueen will always be the best, but this new PAPILLON is still worth checking out if you love the original, and audiences that have nothing to compare it to will no doubt be very impressed.

Source: JoBlo.com

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