Papillon (2017)

Papillon (2017) ⭐️⭐️⭐️

Director: Michael Noer. Cast: Charlie Hunnam,Rami Malek,  Damijan OklopdzicChristopher Fairbank 

If you have not seen the original film starring Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman from 1973 this re-telling of the true story of the French Papillon convicted for a murder he didn’t commit and sent to life imprisonment in South America, might actually look like a rather good movie.

And to be honest, it’s really not bad at all. In fact I think I quite enjoyed it (though probably “Enjoyed” is not quite the right word when discussing watching people enduring a life sentence in the most gruelling way). It’s nicely told, filmed and paced. Its old-fashion film-making style feels pretty timeless, like the film could have been made anytime in the last 30 years.But if you are familiar with the original then, aside from a prologue (which actually takes away a little bit of the mystery about the main character) and an epilogue (rather pointless) and a few bits of more explicit violence and sex (though, not much from the latter), this film adds very little to the mix. The beats of the story are the same. One wonders what possessed the makers to decide to redo it at all?I rewatched the original straight after this and even though they are actually very similar, both with different weaknesses and strengths, some of the relationship earlier beats work better in this version.

McQueen and Hoffman are of course a pretty hard double-act to beat. McQueen got most of the awards at the time (golden globe, Oscar nominations and so on), but Dustin Hoffman is extraordinary with his mannerism and I felt like Malick in the same role of Degas struggled a bit trying not to copy the previous performance. Having said that, his fears for prison life and his reasoning for looking for help in Charlie Hunnam’s character (The Papillon of the title) are probably better explained and developed here (I can hear people screaming “Heretic!!”).

Hunnam does his best with the role: he may lack the charisma that McQueen had and he doesn’t seem to express a lot of emotions, but his physical presence is undeniable and his transformation from healthy and muscular at the start to thin, sick and emaciated works a lot better here than in the original. It is also shorter film, probably darker, grittier but just as claustrophobic, gruesome and full of despair, but it is handsomely made and it got me glued to the screen.

It should probably get 2 different ratings: a first one (a pretty low one) for being a pointless film, but a second rating too for being actually quite a well made film.

Both films are on Amazon Prime

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