Prison sucks. Obviously.
Henri “Papillon” Charrière (Charlie Hunnam) is a safecracker from the Parisian underworld who seems to be living the good life and loving every second of it. That is, until he is framed for murder and condemned to life in the notorious penal colony on Devil’s Island, the kind of place where even the roughest, toughest, and most hardened-criminals go to die and become shells of their former-selves. But Henri isn’t going to let the hardcore-conditions get to him, he’s going to try and regain his freedom, by any means necessary. Even if that means failing and being punished for it just about every time, he’ll do it. He just needs to escape and return to his former-life, with the love of his life (Eve Hewson). And it’s why he forms something of an alliance/friendship with convicted counterfeiter Louis Dega (Rami Malek), who agrees to help out Henri, so long as he protects him on the inside.
Cause in case you didn’t know, prison is hell. Clearly.
As is the case with every remake that comes around, you have to ask: Did it need a remake? In the case of Papillon, the 1973 thriller starring Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman, well, not really. As it stands on its own, it’s solid, exciting, and surprisingly dramatic, even in the smaller, human moments. It’s not a perfect movie and I wouldn’t necessarily call it “a classic”, but it’s a good prison-flick that never forgets to be humane when it has the chance to be.
Which is what brings me to the case of Papillon, the 2018 remake that feels like it’s doing everything it can do to tell the same story with a new, exciting, and unpredictable flair, but mostly, remains conventional, dull, a little boring, and oh yeah, constantly predictable. It’s the kind of movie where, by the end credits, you can tell that there were good intentions involved, i.e. to tell the true story of one man’s passion for freedom, even in the midst of some of the worst and most inhumane conditions possible, but by the two-hour mark, the movie has lost any chance in really working up any fireworks, emotional or not. By then, we’re already checked-out and wondering where to eat after it’s over.
Yep. It gets that boring.
Which is a shame, because the movie does look cool and both Hunnam and Malek do their best, but really, they can’t do much with thinly-written material that seems to be moving at a-mile-a-minute. One of the best things about the original flick was how it took its time to get us in the mood of dread and death, as well as gave us time for small character-stuff, to where we actually gave a crap about these two trying to escape, by any means necessary. Here, we don’t really care, because these characters never ring true as real people; Hunnam is as his usual heroic, stoic-self that’s usually just there to be hunky and hairless, whereas Malek, who is usually very good, seems like he can’t make-up his mind on whether he wants to be a full-on weirdo, or just neurotic.
Either way, they’re both trying something and it doesn’t really work. And it’s not necessarily their faults, as Papillon, the remake, never quite had the chance to succeed. Sometimes, you just can’t touch certain movies, regardless of if they’re considered classics or not.
Sometimes, Hollywood, you just got to let it go and actually fund, I don’t know, original ideas.
I don’t know. Just maybe.
Consensus: While it tries to be meaningful and a tribute to the human spirit, Papillon is also a rote, boring, rather predictable prison flick that proves that, even if the remake wasn’t perfect, it still probably didn’t need to be touched ever again.
4 / 10
Photos Courtesy of: Bleecker Street