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papillon (2017)

Director: michael noer
starring: charlie hunnam, rami malek, roland moller, and eve hewson


REVIEWER: lyall carter

Wrongfully convicted for murder, Henri Charriere forms an unlikely relationship with fellow inmate and quirky convicted counterfeiter Louis Dega, in an attempt to escape from the notorious penal colony on Devil's Island.

Charlie Hunnam seems to get a raw deal. With the success on the small screen of Sons of Anarchy, he was elevated to the big screen but it didn't really work out that well. King Arthur: Legend of the Sword was one of the biggest flops of 2017, The Lost City was brilliant but not widely released, and Papillon wasn't even released theatrically (in New Zealand). All of which is a huge pity because, in my humble opinion, Hunnam is one of the best leading Hollywood actors working today and Papillon is a really good film. 

A remake of the 1973 Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman classic and based on the best selling autobiography, Papillon is the epic story of Henri "Papillon" Charrière, a safecracker from the Parisian underworld who is framed for murder and condemned to life in the notorious penal colony on Devil's Island. Determined to regain his freedom, Papillon forms an unlikely alliance with convicted counterfeiter Louis Dega, who in exchange for protection, agrees to finance Papillon's escape.

Even though I've never seen the 1973 adaptation, Papillon feels remarkably familiar which isn't really a bad thing in the end. It allows the audience to enter the world it inhabits faster and stay there much longer. 

Narratively the story hits all of the right cinematic notes: man is wrongfully imprisoned, makes a prison pal, and plots his escape with many failures along the way. Its not pedestrian but it also doesn't do anything fresh with the genre or the story. Its just incredibly solid. 

Papillon is elevated by Hunnam and Malek's performances. Hunnam has that leading man charisma that floods the screen and gives you a protagonist that you want to cheer on. Malek is very un-Freddie here and gives a more nuanced, reserved performance but nonetheless great. 


Papillon is a solid prison escape film and with Hunnam and Malek around its more than worth a watch.


Papillon is available on DVD and digital from all good disc and digital retailers. 

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