Based on the international best-selling autobiography, “Papillon” brings the epic story of Henri “Papillon” Charrière (Charlie Hunnam) back to the screen with a gritty and violent streak. It’s a dark and sometimes horrific tale of an innocent man who is framed for a murder he didn’t commit and sentenced to life in the notorious prison on Devil’s Island in French Guiana. It’s also arguably an unnecessary remake of Franklin J. Schaffner’s 1973 feature starring Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman.
Rami Malek steps into the role of convicted counterfeiter Louis Dega, with his trademark creep / quirk appeal working overtime. Malek sells his role as a wealthy artistic type who understands what he needs to do to survive in prison. After another rich prisoner is gruesomely murdered on his first night in the brink, Dega forms an alliance with Papillon. The Parisian safecracker agrees to serve as Dega’s protector in exchange for money to finance his escape plan.
The film is well-acted with effective performances (although the scenes near the end of the film feel a little hokey). The project was shot in chronological order, and you can see and feel the stress of filming on the actors as the movie progresses. They look just as worn down as their characters, and it’s clearly visible in their performances. Audiences may start feel worn down too, especially when the multiple attempts at a prison break begin to feel repetitive. Thankfully the cast keeps things engaging and interesting despite the two hour plus run time. The film starts out in Paris during the 1930s and closes in the late 1960s. It’s a sprawling story that’s slow-moving and dragged out a bit too long, yet director Michael Noer manages to build upon the suspense.
The superstar here is composer David Buckley‘s score, a melancholy soundtrack that perfectly reflects the overall mood of the film. It’s among my favorites of the year.
If you’re a fan of escape films, the lead actors, or of the original material on which it’s based, you’ll likely enjoy this version of “Papillon.”