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Michael Noer’s remake of Franklin J Schaffner’s 1973 film recasts Charlie Hunnam and Rami Malek as Henri “Papillon” Charrière and Louis Dega, roles made famous by Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman respectively. Based on Charrière’s 1969 memoir, it tells of a Parisian jewel thief who, in a spectacularly unlucky frame-up, was banished to a penal colony in French Guiana in 1931 (“This is for the greater good that is French expansion!” insists the film, with some irony). Life on the island is a gruesome ordeal, with Noer zeroing in on a gutting, a beheading and one character’s unruly digestive system.
“I just need to concentrate on breaking out,” mutters Hunnam’s Papillon (the nickname in honour of a hideous butterfly tattoo emblazoned on his chest and amusingly shortened to “Papi”), who cannily teams up with diminutive, bespectacled forger Dega upon learning that he has a small fortune, shoved up his bum in cash. If only it were that easy: Papi attempts several prison breaks that land him in solitary confinement for years at a time.
Hunnam does his best, alert and interesting, as the guards try to terrorise the humanity out of him. He and Malek have some chemistry (in fact, at its most interesting it borders on the homoerotic, with Dega whispering in his burly protector’s ear in bed), but at a slow two hours plus, the film feels stretched. Unfair, perhaps, given that it’s based on true events, but Papi’s protracted, chaotically paced setbacks begin to feel less like a test of his resilience than the viewer’s.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Papillon review – protracted jail break remake | Film