As someone who – sheepishly – isn’t qualified to compare this remake to its original source material (the 1973 classic starring Steve McQueen and the books written by Henri Charrière), I can tell you that as a standalone prison drama, Papillon works very well.
However, Papillon covers a lot of ground with questionable pacing. The film begins with a quick introduction to the criminal lifestyle of safecracker Henri ‘Papillon’ Charrière (Sons of Anarchy’s Charlie Hunnam) before Charrière is framed for a murder and ordered to serve a lifetime sentence in French Guiana, South America. Though this immediate form of storytelling is detrimental to the film’s characters (which essentially boils them down to basic prisoner outlines), it becomes clear that screenwriter Aaron Guzikowski (Contraband, Prisoners) and director Michael Noer are less interested on individual characterizations because they want to be more involved with the kinetic relationships between Papillon and the other inmates. These bonds are what occupies the stark soulful nature of these ruffians. Some inmates can’t be saved (and it’s obvious which ones are lost), but there’s hope for the wrongfully accused Henri and his frightened cellmate Louis Dega (Rami Malek of the upcoming Freddie Mercury biopic Bohemian Rhapsody).
With award-worthy art direction and costume design along with the winning on-screen team of Hunnam and Malek, Papillon keeps the audience on the edge of their seat through attempted escapes, fights, and crooked backstabbings without taking away from the heart and drama of Henri Charrière’s true story.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie