18th Dec2018

‘Papillon’ Review

by Jak-Luke Sharp

Stars: Charlie Hunnam, Rami Malek, Tommy Flanagan, Eve Hewson, Roland Moller, Nina Senicar, Michael Socha | Written by Aaron Guzikowski | Directed by Michael Noer


Based on the international best-selling autobiography by Henri Charrière, Papillon follows the epic true story of Henri “Papillon” Charrière (Charlie Hunnam), a safecracker from the Parisian underworld who is framed for murder and condemned to life in a notorious penal colony on Devil’s Island. Determined to regain his freedom, Papillon forms an unlikely alliance with convicted counterfeiter Louis Dega (Rami Malek) who, in exchange for protection, agrees to finance Papillon’s escape, ultimately resulting in a bond of lasting friendship.

Michael Noer has taken the highly unusual task of remaking the film in what is regarded as the last great dramatic role of American icon Steve McQueen, in the likes of Papillon. A somewhat forgotten film, certainly in terms of the larger talent and intoxicatingly immeasurable work of art released throughout the 1970s. Franklin J. Schaffner’s original 1973 version, while staunch on running time, serves its purpose of conveying utter desperation and torment with two terrific performances from McQueen and Hoffman. Which begs the question, why remake it?

The remake of Papillon is in essence “completely fine”. It is a sufficient and well-made film in terms of production quality. The performances from Malek and Hunnam are decent enough. Showcasing the range both actors are capable of. In particular that of Hunnam who is slowly running out of chances to capitalise on his Sons of Anarchy success that ended in 2014, four years and numerous attempts of the studio system franchising him to little to no avail. It is clear that Hunnam expresses himself far better in the independent circuit and while he can’t touch upon McQueen’s performance, he does, in fact, get the closest to the quality of Schaffner’s original.

Malek, on the other hand, is incredibly hit and miss. To state he can’t act would be ridiculous but the grapple and handle on his character here is far from convincing. There is little to no conviction in terms of connection nor determent to succeed with his character escaping this dreaded prison. Perhaps a contextual decision that links to the characters mental state later in the film, yet if so, it is poorly implemented which derives from the poor retooling and meat in the film’s screenplay from Aaron Guzikowski. A lacking substance in the often pleasant experience that doesn’t take the material in any new direction, nor add upon the depth or profundity.

And that begs the question once again. If it does very little to add upon the original, why on earth remake it? The answer is quite simple – You don’t.

Papillon comes to UK cinemas on December 21st.


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