Film Review – Papillon (2017)

Charlie Hunnam

Title – Papillon (2017)

Director – Michael Noer (Northwest)

Cast – Charlie Hunnam, Rami Malek, Eve Hewson, Michael Socha, Yorick van Wageningen, Roland Møller

Plot – Based on the true story of 1930’s safecracker and prison inmate Henri “Papillon” Charrière (Hunnam) who with the help of fellow prisoner Louis Dega (Malek) set about escaping the perilous penile colony of Devils Island.

“Do you think a person knows when he’s going mad? Or do you think its blissful ignorance?”

Review by Eddie on 13/05/2019

There’s no real reason for 1973’s Papillon to have been remade, a sentiment that was seemingly found in most people considering how little fanfare this update got upon initial release, coming and going without so much of hint of notice but Michael Noer’s re-imagining of the classic Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman prison break drama is a solid, if unremarkable attempt to breathe new life into the supposedly true life tale of 1930’s convict and escape artist Henri “Papillon” Charrière.

Starring two of the most in-demand actors working today, in the form of Sons of Anarchy superstar Charlie Hunnam (who just can’t catch a cinematic break) and Bohemian Rhapsody star, new Bond villain and Oscar winner Rami Malek, Papillon is a picturesque and solidly filmed epic that’s lack of heart and energy often holds it back from achieving its goal of justifying its existence around its much beloved predecessor, that to this day holds up well as one of the quintessential incarceration/escape film’s.

There’s a lot of commitment on show from its leads, with Hunnam and Malek diving headfirst into their roles, even if Hunnam is the films real MVP, stripping back (and off) for his role as con artist turned wrongly convicted murderer Charrière.

While Malek is fine as psychically weak forger Louis Dega, of whom Charrière begins to protect in hopes he can finance an escape off the notorious French/Polynesian that the two criminals find themselves on in the harsh surrounds of the early 1930’s, Hunnam’s psychically and emotionally charged turn is deserving of a better film, a shame since his strong performance here will remain largely unnoticed, much like the similar low-key release of the very good Lost City of Z.

Despite Hunnam’s turn and some great production qualities on stunning surrounds filmed across Eurpope, Papillon’s big missed opportunity is in its creation of a strong friendship between Charrière and Dega. We never feel a strong connection between these two men, there’s hints of a bond throughout but never a fully-fledged connection.

Unlike say a classic such as The Shawshank Redemption or even the original 1973 film, of which featured a great double act of comradery between McQueen and Hoffman, Papillon never nails its central and important friendship down, meaning we’re always kept at arm’s length to the plight of these two very different men, unable to be more than curiously engaged rather than totally captured by their dangerous undertakings.

Final Say –

Unnecessary and not close to matching the original, this modern take on the Papillon story is still perfectly watchable and features a turn by Charlie Hunnam that showcases why he can hopefully have a break out feature but overall you do wonder what the point of this whole exercise was when what we’ve had before is still more than adequate.

3 bundles of coconuts out of 5    

4 responses to “Film Review – Papillon (2017)

  1. Great review! Like you, I don’t understand the need of remaking a great movie… I’m only interested in remakes of movies with great ideas but that for some reason were not well made!

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