Film Review: ‘Papillon” Still Packs a Classic & Compelling Story

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CHICAGO – The remarkable true-ish story of “Papillon” is difficult to mess up. Henrí Charriére published the “autobiographical novel” in 1969, and the first film version dropped in 1973, with Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman as the two leads no less. The latest film has Charlie Hunnam and Rami Malek in those leads, as two French prisoners constantly trying to escape. Oscarman rating: 3.5/5.0
Rating: 3.5/5.0

The film does suffer from comparison to the first version (directed by veteran Franklin J. Schaffner), but it is still a well-done unfolding of a audacious prison “adventure.” The French word for butterfly, “Papillon,” is the nickname of Charriére, a prisoner in the French Guiana (Devil’s Island) system from 1931 to 1945. He spent his whole time there trying to escape, in broader and more interesting schemes. The movie exploits that aspect of the story, and created some nice scenarios in letting them play out. Hunnam and Malek (“Mr. Robot”) won’t make anybody forget McQueen and Hoffman, but they do interesting work in their go at it… in essence, the story is compelling enough to justify a remake.

Charlie Hunnam is Henrí “Papillon” Charriére (so nicknamed for his butterfly tattoo) is a small time safe cracker who can’t help pilfering a cut from his Parisian mob boss. When this is discovered, he is framed for murder, and sentenced to the French Guiana prison system… which includes Devil’s Island. He is determined to escape, and is paired with fellow prisoner Louie Dega (Rami Malek) in that pursuit.

They are up against Warden Barrot (Yorick van Wageningen), a sadistic and no nonsense guardian of the system. When Papillon tries his first escape, he is caught, and does two years of solitary confinement. He tries again, and again is caught. But it never breaks him, and he keeps at it until a result is imminent. His tenacity, and companionship for Louie Dega, is what drives him.

“Papillon” opened everywhere on August 24th. Featuring Charlie Hunnam, Rami Malek, Eve Hewson, Michael Socha and Yorick van Wageningen. Screenplay adapted by Aaron Guzikowski. Directed by Michael Noer. Rated “R”

StarContinue reading for Patrick McDonald’s full review of “Papillon”

Papillon (Charlie Hunnam) and Louie Dega (Rami Malek) in ‘Papillon’
Photo credit: Bleecker Street Media

StarContinue reading for Patrick McDonald’s full review of “Papillon”

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