Papil­lon re­make much bet­ter than orig­i­nal movie

Calgary Herald - - MOVIES - CHRIS KNIGHT ck­[email protected]­ twit­­film


★★★ 1/2outof5 Cast: Char­lie Hun­nam, Rami Malek Di­rec­tor: Michael Noer Du­ra­tion: 2h 13m

It’s a lit­tle too late into the ca­reers of Char­lie Hun­nam and Rami Malek to call this a break­out hit for ei­ther of them, but it does in­volve a break­out, and could very well be a hit.

The source ma­te­rial is the 1969 au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal novel by Henri (Papil­lon) Char­rière, a French crim­i­nal who was sent to a pe­nal colony in French Guiana in 1933.

He spent most of his time there try­ing in­ven­tive ways to es­cape — some of them even in­volv­ing co­conuts.

You may know the story from the 1973 film, which starred Steve Mc­Queen in the ti­tle role and Dustin Hoff­man as Louis Dega, a fel­low pris­oner who be­came Papil­lon’s best friend. I haven’t seen that ver­sion but was warned away from it by Roger Ebert, who wrote at the time: “You know some­thing has gone wrong when you want the hero to es­cape sim­ply so that the movie can be over.”

The new Papil­lon, di­rected by Den­mark’s Michael Noer and adapted by Aaron Guzikowski (Con­tra­band, Pris­on­ers), feels for a time like it might not lift it­self above this level of au­di­ence en­gage­ment, but the turn­ing point comes about halfway through the film’s 133 min­utes, when Papil­lon (Hun­nam) has just weath­ered two years in soli­tary con­fine­ment, much of it on half-ra­tions and in the dark.

Re­cu­per­at­ing in the pri­son hos­pi­tal, he is re­united with Louis (Malek), whom we un­der­stand tried to help smug­gle ex­tra ra­tions to his friend. Louis, a book­ish forger, sports a crack in the right lens of his glasses, but also a tough­ness Papil­lon hasn’t seen be­fore.

When first they met on the pri­son ship that was trans­port­ing them to Guiana, Papil­lon of­fered pro­tec­tion in ex­change for cash. But Louis has proven to be a scrappy sur­vivor, as has Papil­lon in his own way. Asked how he avoided go­ing bonkers in soli­tary, he is blunt:

“I just got used to the si­lence,” he says.

Noer is care­ful with the vi­o­lence in­her­ent in a story about pri­son life; the film is hardly blood­less, but the fluid usu­ally seeps in from the cor­ners of the screen as it were: drip­ping from a guil­lo­tine blade, for in­stance, or leak­ing from the body bag hold­ing the victim’s corpse. A few pow­er­ful ex­cep­tions are scat­tered ju­di­ciously through the film, and shock us all the more for it.

Papil­lon is es­sen­tially a twohan­der for its stars, but there are some nicely un­der­played sup­port­ing roles, in­clud­ing Roland Møller as a fel­low pris­oner, and Yorick van Wa­genin­gen, who man­ages the part of “sadis­tic war­den” without slip­ping into car­i­ca­ture.

He de­liv­ers chill­ing speeches about how the pris­on­ers are wel­come to try to es­cape any­time they want and how, in the ab­sence of re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion, he’ll just be try­ing to break their spir­its.

Wel­come to jail, boys!

It’s enough to have us root­ing for Papil­lon, and it doesn’t hurt that his con­vic­tion on mur­der was clearly a frame-up af­ter the safe­cracker stole some loot from his boss.

Be­sides, Hun­nam’s char­ac­ter may be a thief and an op­por­tunist, but he still has a moral com­pass and is avowedly not a killer. He’d be a good guy to know on the in­side, es­pe­cially if you were look­ing to get out.


Rami Malek, Char­lie Hun­nam and Roland Møller star in the new re­make of the 1973 movie Papil­lon.

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