Cast: Charlie Hunnam, Rami Malek, Roland Moller, Tommy Flanagan
Director: Michael Noer
Synopsis from Rotten Tomatoes: Based on the international best-selling autobiographic books “Papillon” and “Banco”, PAPILLON follows the epic story of Henri “Papillon” Charrière (Charlie Hunnam), a safecracker from the Parisian underworld who is framed for murder and condemned to life in the notorious penal colony on Devil’s Island. Determined to regain his freedom, Papillon forms an unlikely alliance with quirky convicted counterfeiter Louis Dega (Rami Malek), who in exchange for protection, agrees to finance Papillon’s escape.
When you remake a movie like Papillon that was incredibly successful either commercially or critically, naturally there is going to be some pushback from the purists who love the original. Since the original film came out in 1973, enough time has passed where a new generation of talent can take a spin on one of the greatest adventure novels of the 20th century and make it something unique to the viewers who watch it in 2018. While not quite as good as the original, 2018’s Papillon is by no means a bad movie. Powered by a hard-working Hunnam as the titular character and shot in a way that does not distract us from the world these characters suffer in, Papillon is an above-average remake in a world where so many fall flat.
The film follows Papillon (Hunnam), a wrongly convicted killer who has been sent to the French penal colony of French Guiana to spend the rest of his life doing hard manual labor. Along the way, Papillon meets Louis Dega (Malek), a wealthy businessman who has been jailed for fraud and sent to the colony with Papillon. In exchange for Papillon protecting Dega from the extensive perils of prison, Dega will help fund an escape plan for Papillon. The main thing that stands out about the movie is just how intense the moments of violence and adventure are. Anytime these characters are in danger or in a state of distress, you can feel the space getting smaller on the screen as this claustrophobic feeling completely captures the essence of despair that exists in their world, especially when Hunnam is on-screen. Speaking of Hunnam, he had some pretty massive shoes to fill taking over a role originally played by Steve McQueen. Hunnam fills this role perfectly, providing a good balance between a man who has to divide his time surviving the daily threats of prison guards and other prisoners as well as keeping himself sane enough to continue on with his plans of escape. Hunnam and Malek have such a strong chemistry and it feels as though these two have been locked away for decades with only one another to depend on. While comparisons will be made between the original version of this film and the remake, I do not necessarily believe those comparisons are fair to make. With the advancement of theatrical technology and the development of on-screen techniques, we now have a different threshold for what we consider good and what we consider to be mediocre. While the score is not as good as the original film’s, this iteration feels as if it is a fair rendition of a classic tale. The acting is strong, the story feels fresh, and the moments of tension do an excellent job of setting the tone and making us feel anxious. At this point, what else can you ask the movie to do? It may be about 15 minutes too long, but if that is the only complaint that you have about the film, then clearly it did enough things right.
Overall, while this new version of Papillon does not have two of the most highly touted actors of this generation like the original did, that does not mean it cannot hold its own as an independent project. This will be the version of a classic story that the next few generations will have as their point of reference, and it is a more than respectable version of that story. If you are looking for a detailed and ambitious story that will leave you on the edge of your seat, then this new version of Papillon could be just the film you are looking for.
Overall Score: 7/10