Ruggedly handsome Charlie Hunnam has had a rather up and down career. With his television series Sons of Anarchy he met with success of the critical and popular variety. Everyone loved the series. He made a biker gang guy desirable as Hunnam infused his character with plenty of depth. When it comes to his film career he has met with considerably less success. Wisely he reportedly turned down the lead male role in the Fifty Shades series, but did not meet with such wisdom with the rest. King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, The Lost City of Z, Crimson Peak and Pacific Rim were less of a success.
When it was announced he was taking part in a remake of the 1973 Steve McQueen/Dustin Hoffman film of the same name it peaked people’s interest. Papillon is an escape film based on the 1969 autobiography by Henri Charri re. Everyone, even most of the stodgy critics, likes a good jailbreak film. No matter that it often involves a criminal escaping and returning back to society. The hype surrounding the film seemed warranted as it was to premiere at TIFF in 2017.
The problem here is not the acting talent as you get Hunnan, Rami Malek and Hunnam’s Sons of Anarchy castmate, Tommy Flanagan. Hunnam and Malek are both perfect, physically and in tone, for their roles. We also know that the story is an interesting one. Loads of conflict, action, tension and intrigue. So by process of elimination the fault lies with director Michael Noer. The Danish director had previously worked on several documentaries and the action/crime drama, Northwest. Seemed like a good choice and yet things do not work out.
Mostly it is about pacing with a film like this. Though it largely happens within a jail there is still plenty of opportunity for things to happen quickly. Even in the moments such as when Papillon is put into solitary for a long time and struggles to keep his sanity as well as his life, there should be plenty of tension. It, unfortunately, does not work out that way.
The film is long at roughly two hours and fifteen minutes and it drags so that on occasion it almost feels like I was serving a sentence alongside the prisoners. Feeling invested in what was going on, on the stellar example of humans triumphing against inhumane conditions. A shining example of resiliency. Yet, somehow, I was never truly invested.
Though he definitely was a criminal the crime which landed Frenchman Henri Charri re in prison was one he was innocent of. He was framed for murder because he pissed off the wrong guy. At the time, Henri, who was known by his nickname given to him due to a tattoo he had – Papillon, worked as a safecracker for an underground Parisian gangster. After he is framed for a murder, Papillon is sentenced to life in jail.
During this era, the 1930s, France sent the worst of its offenders to a penal colony on Devil’s Island. From moment one there Papillon plots his escape. To accomplish this he makes friends with wealthy counterfeiter Louis Dega (played by Rami Malek). Their relationship is based on mutual benefit in that Papillon agrees to keep Dega safe as long as the counterfeiter greases whatever wheels Papillon needs in his escape plan.
-The Magnificent Rebel