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Review: Papillon

August 24, 2018

By John Corrado

★★½ (out of 4)

A remake of the 1973 film of the same name, which was itself adapted from a bestselling autobiography, this new version of Papillon finds Charlie Hunnam and Rami Malek taking over the roles that were originally played by Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman. It’s finally opening in theatres now, after premiering at TIFF nearly a year ago.

The film is based on the true story of Henri “Papillon” Charrière (Hunnam), a safecracker in Paris who is falsely accused of murder after a night on the town, and sent to prison in the penal colony on Devil’s Island in French Guiana. Doomed to a life of captivity and forced labour, Charrière teams up with the eccentric counterfeiter Louis Dega (Malek) to craft an escape plan.

Helmed by Danish director Michael Noer, it’s worth noting that Papillon is consistently well crafted at least on a technical level, and the film is built around a pair of engaging performances from Charlie Hunnam and Rami Malek, with the former playing well to his ability to portray misunderstood tough guys, and the latter fully embracing the quirkier tics of his sidekick character.

The trouble is that the film, while being solidly acted and fairly well made, also plays things a little too safe and doesn’t really do enough to distinguish much of its own identity, especially when compared to the original. So while pretty much everything about this remake is competent to good, nothing about it is particularly inspired either, which can make the 133 minute running time feel somewhat overlong.

What we are left with is a decent if fairly standard prison drama that isn’t exactly required viewing, especially when a stronger adaptation of the material already exists, but there are still enough engaging moments here and there to make this new take on Papillon worth a look for the solid performances.

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