The accessibility of a remake always depends on the people making it and the necessary ramifications for such a pursuit. The ideal behind “Papillon” which was previous made as a movie in the 1970s starring Steve McQueen & Dustin Hoffman is one of showcase. Most younger generations wouldn’t have had a perception of such a story, especially one that begins in the 1930s. But like most great stories worth telling, the essence borders in the mythic. Charlie Hunnam portrays Papillon. Hunnam definitely has an eye for unusual material with literical overtones which might not necessarily give breathe to his marquee value but definitely marks him differently. He turned down “Fifty Shades Of Grey” right before he was to shoot it. While “King Arthur” didn’t succeed, “The Lost City Of Z” was an interesting choice. The challenge is obvious within “Papillon” for him but like “ A Prayer Before Dawn” from A24 earlier this year, the power of the story might not have been enough to connect with audiences. The aspect of Rami Malek, who now has reached a mainstream perception with his lead role as Freddie Mercury in “Bohemian Rhapsody”, playing Louis Dega nicely complements Hunnam’s Papillon much like Hoffman to McQueen. Malek brings a quite reserve and nervousness to Dega which again shows his dynamic range as compared to say his work on “Mr. Robot”. The locations are interestingly vague yet specific. It starts out in Paris in the 1930s, all shot on soundstage. Most of the actual prison and interiors seems to be have been shot in Serbia. There is an old world dirtiness to the proceedings while including a sense of history. The essence of Malta is definitely felt in Devil’s Island (who many may recognize from the ending of 1980’s “Popeye”) The themes of escape and abandonment versus a sense of belonging resonate throughout the film. The film does get a bit esoteric during Papillon’s isolation time which is a creative choice but unbalances the progression. In terms of extras, there are a nice selection of deleted scenes though only two specifically give a specific enhancement to the film in terms of detail: one being the escaping band of criminals negotiating with a village of lepers and the other being Louis finding a sense of piece in gardening and caring for animals. Both scenes show a sense of gentleness both in Papi and Louis that maybe gets lost at times in the savagery of the prison. “Papillon” didn’t necessarily need to be made but those involve definitely show their passion in these continuing stories that need to be told.
By Tim Wassberg