‘Papillon’ review: Charlie Hunnam and Rami Malek pack in the emotion in remake of Steve McQueen-Dustin Hoffman classic
Starring Charlie Hunnam, Rami Malek and directed by Michael Noer, the remake of the 1973 classic goes beyond the original film. It certainly is a Hollywood remake done right.
Based on the Henri Charriere’s 1969 bestseller and the 1973 film starring Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman, ‘Papillon’ is one remake that Hollywood got right. The filmmakers and actors had a lot to live up to, and in doing so, brought additional layers to the original film that make this one even better.
The film begins following Henri “Papillon” Charriere (Charlie Hunnam), a thief with a zest for life in Paris in 1931. The first ten minutes of the film we see Papillon living his life to the fullest with his lover Nenette (Eve Hewson). The two have a glorious night in the town, drinking champagne, making love and truly living life on the edge. Sadly, the fun is over the following morning when Papillon is arrested and convicted of a murder he didn’t commit, being thrown into the corrupt French penal system.
With life imprisonment in French Guiana, Papillon meets fellow prisoner Louis Dega (Rami Malek), a clever, scrawny and rich counterfeiter in need of protection in prison. The conditions are abominable and dangerous, with prisoners being killed in their sleep and raped on a regular basis. The unlikely pair strike up a deal - Papillon will provide Louis with protection for a cost, which Papillon is hoping will help him one day escape. Papillon and Louis’ business relationship quickly turns into an unlikely friendship, with these two men risking everything for each other over a span of 14 years.
After an initial failed escape attempt, Papillon is put in solitary confinement for several years, never giving up his partner in crime, Louis. After being released from solitary confinement, Louis is there waiting for him, forever grateful he didn’t throw him under the bus. This is when their real ‘do or die' friendship is established. Papillon never gives up on his dreams getting out, and after a couple of more failed escape attempts and years of on and off solitary confinement, Papillon is taken to the penal colony of Devil’s Island, where Louis is there waiting for him.
Even though Devil’s Island has the reputation of being one of the darkest places a prisoner can go, director Michael Noer brings light and beauty to this feared confinement. There is finally a sense of freedom and closure on the isolated island that brings relief to both the characters and the audience alike. Without giving away too much, the film ends on a note of hope, resilience and love, portraying a beautiful platonic love story between two friends.
With such a dark subject matter, ‘Papillon’ still leaves audiences with a sense of hope and even provides a few laughs. Hunnam’s performance, specifically, is worthy of recognition as he brings a sense of humanity and heart to his character. Additionally, Malek pulls at our heartstrings with his deeply relatable, emotional and realistic portrayal of a man who was not made for this kind of environment. Each actor was also 100 percent dedicated to their role, losing a substantial amount of weight throughout the entirety of the film. In regards to director Noer, he adapted the film well, focusing more on the book than on the previous film, which perhaps will entice fans of the original 1973 film to give this one a shot.
‘Papillon’ will be released in the US on August 24th.