“Papillon” an Aggressive Remake


The grueling and daring motion picture Papillon survives the dreaded word “remake” with a stellar movie in glorious full color, a shorter storyline version and an R rating. The original that was released in 1974 earned a wow when it was released, but was only nominated for a Best Music (Original Dramatic Score) at the Oscars. Steve McQueen however, did get a Best Actor nomination for a Golden Globe. It kind of makes you think why it has kept it’s mojo as one of the best films ever made. Well maybe it wasn’t after all and I’ll expound on that latter in my review.

But first! The new release of Papillon has a lot going for it, including some nice settings, cinematography and a more succinct story. Not too much of a shorter film than the original however, because that one is only about 15 minutes longer. In the new version it’s still based on the true facts from 1933 Paris that were submitted by the original Henri ‘Papillon’ Charrière and starts off with a brutal crime for which he was wrongly charged. Now, Papillon (Charlie Hunnam) was not a goody two shoes as he had his faults, being a safe cracker and thieving from the thugs who hired him to do so was not a good idea.

Charlie Hunnam as Papillon and Rami Malek as Louis Dega in the movie PA;PILLON

In a quick trial he gets condemned for the murder of a pimp and gets a life sentence. Back in those days if you get life you’re actually lucky, as most murderers got the guillotine. Not to have lifers anywhere near the populace, they sent them thousands of miles away to French Guiana in South America. The place was a hell hole back in those days and the heavily fortified prison was run by a warden who was not too easy on those who would try to escape.

Rami Malek as Louis Dega in director Michael Noer’s PAPILLON, a Bleecker Street release. Photo Credit: Jose Haro / Bleecker Street

Prior to arriving in French Guiana he meets Louis Dega (Rami Malek) who was convicted of counterfeiting. A weak man who has a lot of money, Dega finds it smart to align with someone who can protect him. When Papillon makes a deal with Dega that he will let no harm come to him for payment, the two quickly become friends. So begins a tale of a long and arduous plan to escape from French Guiana that becomes a life threatening ordeal for both.

Charlie Hunnam stars as “Henri ‘Papillon’ Charriére” in director Michael Noer’s PAPILLON, a Bleecker Street release. Photo Credit: Jose Haro / Bleecker Street

The beauty of the film is really not the actual story of why they were sent to French Guiana, but the characters and the prison in which they have to serve their time. Being put in filthy barracks, unsanitary facilities and made to do hard labor, the two find themselves at odds with the other inmates, the guards and the warden. The support cast really stars in the film, bringing the cringing brutality, forcing men to the brink of crazy, and depravity that’s more evil than degenerate. This film is probably more believable than the original that was rated PG back in the 1970’s. Here director Michael Noer takes out all the stops and entrenches his audience in the squalled and violence of what prison life was actually like in French Guiana.

(L to R) Actor Charlie Hunnam, director Michael Noer and actor Rami Malek on the set of PAPILLON, a Bleecker Street release.
Credit: Jose Haro / Bleecker Street

Now back to why this film should be seen even if you saw the original Papillon. Its popularity back in the day was due to two rising stars chosen to fill the starring roles and as for competition not too many films had been greenlighted with huge budgets. Coming off two major films Planet of the Apes and Patton, Director Franklin J. Schaffner was the perfect person to make the sweeping Cinemascope epic film Papillon at a cost of $13 and a half million. The box-office take for the movie was $53 million in USA. Steve McQueen had a popularity boost from Bullitt (1968) that earned $42 million in USA and The Getaway (1972) earned $36 million. That’s amazing considering the price of a ticket was around $3 to $5 depending on location. As for Dustin Hoffman, the other lead in the movie, his performance in Midnight Cowboy (1969) got him a nomination for Best Actor Oscar and his popularity from The Graduate (1967) where he received another nomination for Best Actor Oscar.

The movie itself was very gritty showing the psychological and physical decay of Papillon as he lived in solitary confinement for nearly 2 years. But the lengthy movie did test the audience on their ability to survive the 2 and a half hours of solitude, captivity, punishment and escape attempts. In the remake, we find a fast paced, no holds barred drive to stay alive. The cinematography gets help from the modern computer graphics, lenses, filters and cameras that bring the story to audiences in brilliant HD.

Hunnam as Papillon in the movie PAPILLON. a Bleecker Street release. Photo Credit: Jose Haro / Bleecker Street

Both Charlie Hunnam as Papillon and Rami Malek as Louis Dega easily fill the shoes of their predecessors who brought the film to life in the original. Hunnam noted for his TV acting in “Sons of Anarchy” and the movie The Lost City of Z show his ability to bring strong tough characters to the screen. Malek found his niche in TV with the lead in the “Mr. Robot” series as Eliot Alderson that got him a nominee for Best Performance of an actor at the Golden Globes in 2015 and 2016. It’s a role he continues to perform well into 2018. Here he latches on to Papillon in order to survive only to return the favor in the long run.

So it’s a toss-up for which film is best, but with the 2018 release you can see the movie on a huge wide screen with high definition sound. It’s your choice, but don’t wait for it to come out on Blu-ray or even 4K as you will never get the experience that a good local theater can give.

Papillon has been rated R by the MPAA for violence including bloody images, language, nudity, and some sexual material. It also has a scene showing forced sex and the use of a guillotine. Be cautious when deciding whether immature children should see this film as there are parts that are inappropriate for your youngsters.

FINAL ANALYSIS: A very good remake of a memorable movie. (4 out of 5 Stars)

Additional Film Information:
Cast: Charlie Hunnam, Rami Malek,  Yorick Van Wageningen, Roland Moller, Tommy Flanagan, Eve Hewson, Joel Bassman, Michael Socha.
Directed by: Michael Noer
Genre: Crime, Drama, Mystery
MPAA Rating: R for violence including bloody images, language, nudity, and some sexual material (and scene of forced sex and brutality)
Running Time: 2 hrs. 13 min.
Opening Date: August 24, 2018
Distributed by: Bleecker Street
Released in: Standard, Dolby

Writer, critic, film editor John Delia, Sr. has been on all sides of the movie business from publications to film making. He has worked as a film critic with ACED Magazine for more than 20 years and other publications for a total of 40 years. He earned a Bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of Florida. John is a member of the Southeastern Film Critics Association and Critics Association of Central Florida Send John a message at jdelia@acedmagazine.com