Oh. Hello movie that I’ve never heard of or saw a single trailer to. Seriously, that’s been a pain in my ass this week. This marks the third movie this week that I knew nothing about.
So, I guess there’s some history to learn. This movie is a remake of the 1973 film of the same name, starring Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman, which was an adaptation of an autobiography by French author Henri “Papillon” Charrière, Papillon being a nickname due to a butterfly tattoo on his chest, and is famous for escaping from the “French penal colony of French Guiana,” so Wikipedia tells me, and his book spans fourteen years between the 1930s and the 1940s.
That’s basically what this movie looks like it’s about. A dude who is imprisoned and makes more than a couple of escape attempts.
Here’s the cast. Starring, we have Charlie Hunnam (KING ARTHUR , and upcoming films A MILLION LITTLE PIECES  and JUNGLELAND ), Rami Malek (NEED FOR SPEED , NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM , and upcoming films BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY  and THE VOYAGE OF DOCTOR DOLITTLE ), Tommy Flanagan (GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY 2 , CHARLIE’S ANGELS: FULL THROTTLE , and upcoming films KILLERS ANONYMOUS  and ADOLESCENCE ), and Eve Hewson (BRIDGE OF SPIES , and upcoming films ROBIN HOOD  and THE TRUE ADVENTURES OF WOLFBOY ).
Now for the crew. Directing, we have Michael Noer, known for stuff I’ve either never seen or heard of, and the upcoming BEFORE THE FROST (2018). Penning the screenplay, we have Aaron Guzikowski, known for PRISONERS (2013). Composing the score is David Buckley, known for JASON BOURNE (2016), and the upcoming ARCTIC JUSTICE (2018). The cinematographer is Hagen Bogdanski, known for stuff I’ve either never seen or heard of. Finally, co-editing is duo John Axelrad and Lee Haugen, both known for LOST CITY OF Z (2017).
Overall, this movie looks… meh. It’s hard not to make a prison-escape movie and not think about THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION. There’s some solid talent on camera, but the movie looks pretty predictable. I don’t know, we’ll see.
This is my honest opinion of: PAPILLON
Set in Paris, France, circa 1931. Henri “Papillon” Charrière (Charlie Hunnam) was once a talented thief. Now, he’s been framed for a murder he didn’t commit and is sentenced to a French Guiana prison island. During his time, he befriends the counterfeiter Louis Dega (Rami Malek) as the two conspire to escape their confinement.
Mmph… I can’t say that I cared about this one. It’s not bad, per se, but… I don’t know, I just didn’t care that much.
The first problem that I had was that Papillon was a fairly clichéd character. Oh gee, a suave and charming thief who’s in good with the leader of a gang, and has the hots for one of his girls? Haven’t seen that a million times before. He thinks he’s the shit, and give him x-amount of time and he’ll be making more money than any gangster in town, it’s such a trite opening act. So of course he arrested for something, a crime that he never committed, and is sent to prison. Already getting a SHAWSHANK feel. Yes, yes, Papillon existed long before the movie, or the book for that matter, but that doesn’t make this movie any more interesting.
Anyway, this… is probably where some of my opinions will get a little unfair. See, by this point, I think I got so damn bored that I literally fell asleep. Not for long, thank God, maybe no more than ten minutes, but that’s HARD for me to do, doubly so considering that I was pretty wide awake going in. But can you really blame me? What really happens? What did I really miss? Papi gets mixed in with some rough and rowdy blokes, a couple of fights, told that Dega is a dude with a shit load of money (sometimes literally), and makes an attempt to strike an alliance, which is met with some resistance. They arrive at the prison and have to do grueling work, suffer indecent treatment from the guards, all that good stuff. But honestly, I don’t recall to much character development and chemistry between Papi and Dega. Actually, come to think of it, I don’t remember what Papi’s first escape attempt was. I just remember falling asleep for a spell and waking up to find Papi getting thrown in solitary confinement and he refuses to say a word… and acting like the Joker from THE DARK KNIGHT, in that he gets hit, but still finds reason to smile at his attacker. Although, I do admit, this is when I stayed awake for the entire movie.
Other issues that I have include the pacing. Not that I have a knack for spotting good or bad pacing, but this seemed a little all over the place. Like, one would think after Papi and Dega’s second escape leading to five years of solitary, something important would have happened. Escaping from Devil’s Island seems rather too easy. I mean… just jump off of the ledge of a cliff and ride the current to shore? How long would that shit take? Something’s telling me that Papi didn’t pack food that would last for very long and I doubt he crafted a spear for fish-hunting purposes. Just saying. And for such a build up to how much of a hell hole Devil’s Island is, it doesn’t seem that bad. I mean, it’s basically an island of homeless dudes with no guards and no limits to where they can wander. Sure, I wouldn’t want to live there, but… I don’t know, I would think the standard prison colony was a worse deal.
I give credit, this is one of Hunnam’s better film roles, and I do get glimpses of Papi’s friendship with Dega. In retrospect, When Papi’s three years are up and he fakes being a vegetable, the two men are more than excited to see each other. But because I fell asleep, I don’t know how justified their relationship is. But I guess that’s neither here nor there, and from what I saw it’s… okay. Papi seems to really care about Dega, really wants to see them both free, and I do enjoy how he takes his time with saying goodbye to him when they’re in Columbia, but coming back for him with the prison guards catch up to them. Plus their final heartfelt goodbye on Devil’s Island. Also, I have to say that this is a good vehicle to rev me up for Malek’s later role in BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY because he is actually really good here. In fact, he steals the show for me in how he starts off as this kind of weak but determined little puppy, but as the story progresses, he starts becoming a lot more competent, reliable, and quite the sympathetic dude.
Overall, I appreciate the production value, it’s shot well, the acting is passable, especially in the second half, but this is a slow-ass movie and really difficult to get into, which will ultimately be a deciding factor into anyone else’s enjoyment of this story. It’s over two hours long, so bare that timeline in mind. Unless you’re really into it, it’s going to feel a lot longer. It has its moments, but it’s just not that worthwhile to me. As a recommendation, I say wait for it as a rental or a streaming service.
My honest rating for PAPILLON: 3/5
This week’s reviews
- THE LITTLE MERMAID
- THE MISEDUCATION OF CAMERON POST
- THE HAPPYTIME MURDERS
- THE BOOKSHOP
- SUPPORT THE GIRLS
Next week’s reviews:
- OPERATION FINALE
- THE LITTLE STRANGER
- LET THE CORPSES TAN / LAISSEZ BRONZER LES CADAVRES
- YA VEREMOS / WE’LL SEE