Cast: Charlie Hunnam, Rami Malek, Yorick Van Wageningen, Eve Hewson
Director: Michael Noer
Rating: * * * *
Michael Noer’s gritty and intense film is a noteworthy remake of the 1973 prison break classic starring Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman which was based on the best-selling autobiographical books “Papillon” and “Banco” written by a French convict. Nicknamed Papillon after the butterfly tattooed on his chest, Henri “Papillon” Charriere was unjustly deported to the most appalling penal colonies.
Charlie Hunnam steps into McQueen’s boots to enact the part of Papillon and Rami Malik follows Hoffman to play the role of Louis, fellow jailbird and friend of Papi, who was a thief (specifically safecracker) in the Parisian underworld, but framed for murder and condemned to life in notorious penitentiaries including one called Devil’s Island. He forges a friendship with convicted rich forger Louis who in exchange for protection, agrees to finance Papillon’s escape. Papillon succeeds in fleeing but is brought back and condemned each time to punishments of even greater severity.
I don’t suppose he strove to find meaning in his abject life, which, according to the psychiatrist and Holocaust s, Viktor Frankl, is the primary motivational force in man. But starved and shackled in solitary confinement in the dark, Papillon keeps dreaming of freedom and remembering, always remembering the good times with the people who matter to him.
This keeps Papi sane and alive. This is why the sadistic jail superintendent (Yorick van Wageningen) is unable to break him, break his spirit. The scene of disembowelling is one of the ghastliest I’ve seen. But there are also shots of haunting beauty as when the convicts’ boat sets out to sea. Hunnam is top notch. Malek, too. Michael Noer’s Papillon is a worthy successor to its 1973 predecessor.