Review: Papillon

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PLOT: In this remake of the Steve McQueen classic, Charlie Hunnam portrays Henri 'Papillon' Charriere, a prisoner looking to escape from the vicious confines of Devil’s Island.

REVIEW: In 1973, Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman starred in the classic prison escape drama Papillon, directed by Franklin J. Schaffner  (PLANET OF THE APES, PATTON). The film told the true life story of Henri 'Papillon' Charriere and his friendship with fellow inmate, Louis Dega. It is a powerful drama, one that has stood the test of time quite nicely. And now, we are seeing a modern day retelling of Henri Charriere’s story. This time, Charlie Hunnam takes on the title role with Rami Malek as Dega. The script, written by Aaron Guzikowski, follows the original film rather closely, yet it also adds a few new elements. This includes an early romance for Henri before his imprisonment. Both films are based on the autobiography of Charriere, a harrowing tale of a man desperate to escape from the brutal confines of the French Guiana prison facility - also known as Devil’s Island.

While both films are similar, in the current telling, we witness Charriere’s time as a thief and his romance with the lovely Nenette (Eve Hewson). After Henri steals from his boss, he is set up for a murder he didn’t commit. Soon, he is sentenced to life imprisonment at the penal system in French Guiana. Along the way he meets a fellow prisoner, counterfeiter Louis Dega, a weak but rich man who eventually seeks protection from “Papillon.” During their time, Henri becomes desperate to find an escape from Devil’s Island. While there, he faces off against the powerful Warden Barrot (Yorick van Wageningen), a cruel and calm man who is intent on keeping Henri's life fairly miserable for his entire sentence. However, Henri remained persistent as he continued to seek freedom from the daily atrocities that fell upon he and his fellow inmates.

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If you’ve seen the original film, the remake generally follows the same path. In fact, a large number of scenes are incredibly similar to the 1973 feature. One of the biggest changes is the opening act. Instead of being introduced to Papillon as already a prisoner, we meet him as a rugged safecracker who is in love with the beautiful Nenette. While this portion of the film is fine, it tends to drag a bit. The love story feels tacked on and meaningless. In fact, the subplot is forgotten as the story places focus on the friendship between Henri and Louis. This is where the film shines, and one of the driving forces behind Henri’s survival. As a man who was essentially going to protect Louis, Henri discovers that the opposite was sometimes just as true.

In one of the best sequences, Papillon is placed in solitary confinement for an unimaginably lengthy stay. When the warden discovers that another prisoner is secretly sending Papillon a coconut every day, Henri protects his friend, even when the cost of his silence nearly destroys him. This is where the film truly begins to work. While the original is most certainly a better film, the moments like this help PAPILLON rise above simply being a generic remake. Michael Noer and cinematographer Hagen Bogdanski do an impressive job at creating a number of striking images that help bring this story to life.

As far as great casting, it would be impossible to beat Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman. And while Charlie Hunnam gives probably one of his better performances as Henri, it isn’t always a dynamic show. However, Rami Malek is superb as Louis Dega. It is when the story focuses on their friendship that the film works the best, and thankfully it is the driving force behind this fascinating tale. Rami’s Louis is a compelling man, one who begins to trust Henri and ultimately the two find solace in their relationship. Both Hunnam and Malek work especially well together, even if it is Malek who will be remembered for his impressive performance. It is also exciting to see a bit of a Sons of Anarchy reunion with Hunnam and Tommy Flanagan in a supporting role.

PAPILLON is a mostly solid remake, one that features an intriguing tale of loyalty and friendship. The violence and the horrors of prison life are at times brutal, yet it is the main relationship that truly moves the story. While shorter than the original, this film tends to be a little slow in the beginning - with a few dull moments scattered throughout. If you are going to add a romantic element early on, perhaps it should be more significant to the rest of the film. However, the early romance between Hunnam’s Charriere and Hewson’s Nenette is forgotten about within a half hour or so. More than anything, this explores the power of friendship, and how it can get us through trying and impossible times. It also happens to be a visually striking feature with an incredible performance from Rami Malek. This is one remake that is at the very least worth a bargain matinee.

Source: JoBlo.com



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