Papillon drags on a half hour longer than necessary but will inevitably draw people to compare the film to the 1973 original if they’ve seen it.
We’re transported back in time to 1931 Paris where Henri “Papillon” Charrière (Charlie Hunnam) has stolen a number of diamonds for mobster Castili (Christopher Fairbank). He makes one pivotal mistake and the filmmakers really stress this through the camera framing. He hands a diamond necklace to his girlfriend, Nenette (Eve Hewson). So what does Castili do? Frame him for murder. Wrongfully accused, he’s quickly sent off to French Guiana. It’s a French penal colony ruled by Warden Barrot (Yorick van Wageningen) but in an effort to plan his escape, Papi befriends counterfeiter Louis Dega (Rami Malek). Dega has money on him so Papi agrees to protect him in return for financing his escape.
With the way the two quickly bond, you’d have think this film was going to go the Shawshank Redemption route. But alas, the film never reaches Shawshank territory. Their first two escapes falter and then the film time jumps without as much of a warning following the second escape with Celier (Roland Møller) and Maturette (Joel Basman). We see a lot of Papi being silent while being held in solitary that yes, you can here a pin drop.
I have a confession to make. I have never seen the original Papillon starring Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman. This may be a good thing. If I had seen the 1973 film, I’d be more likely to compare the new film to the original. Checks Wiki–there’s some substantial differences between the two films and a zinger line from Roger Ebert. If Ebert didn’t already use that line, I’d use it here because it’s true! While stars Charlie Hunnam and Rami Malek do fine acting jobs, director Michael Noer has more than his work cut out. For one, surely it would have been possible to have cut a good half hour out of the film.
It’s never a good sign for a film’s pacing when I keep looking at my watch let alone wait for the right time to use the restroom. The honest reality is any time after the first half hour is a good time. If you miss the characters being set up, your essentially screwed for the 136 minute film. But hey, it improves on the original film’s running time by 14 minutes. Take previews into account and the running time won’t be much of an improvement.
Because Papillon drags on for so long, it becomes a challenge to feel engaged with the film.
DIRECTOR: Michael Noer
SCREENWRITERS: Aaron Guzikowski
CAST: Charlie Hunnam, Rami Malek, Eve Hewson, Roland Møller, Yorick van Wageningen, and Tommy Flanagan