Papillon Review - Brilliant, Riveting, Four Stars

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Papillon, from Bleecker Street Media, presents the story of Henri Papillon Charriere, Paris' most famous jewel thief, and Louis Dega, an equally famous counterfeiter who become friends during their imprisonment in the harsh French Guinea penal system.

Directed by Michel Noer, Papillon stars Charlie Hunnam, Rami Malek, Tommy Flanagan, Eve Hewson, Roland Moller, Yorick van Wageningen, Michael Socha, Nick Kent, Mirjam Novak, Christopher Fairbank, Joel Basman, Ian Beattie, Fernanda Diniz, and Antonio de la Cruz.

A remake of the 1973 film of the same name developed for the screen by Dalton Trumbo and Lorenzo Semple Jr., and was based on the books "Papillon" and "Banco" written by Henri Charriere. Papillon, 2017, was written by Aaron Guzikowski.


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The film begins in Paris, 1931, the refined, well educated, and handsome society safecracker, Henri Charriere, played by Charlie Hunnam, just completed a job. Delivering the diamonds, he was told to keep a few for himself. After he and his lover, played by Eve Hewson, spent the night celebrating life outside the Moulin Rouge, he was able to find a beautiful necklace for her, a few extra loose stones for their nest egg and in six months they could have a home in the country.

The next morning, a knock on the door destroys the hope of any future as he is hauled away framed for murder. No matter the protests, the witnesses, the French court found him guilty and sent him to the harshest prison within the penal system located on the island of Guiana.

During the ship boarding he overhears the farewells of a beautiful upper class Parisian women calling out to Louis Dego, played by Rami Malek, who whispers consoling words, "Don't worry," You'll be home by Christmas, we're working on your appeal." Just enough to give the diminutive, bookish, effeminate looking Dego some confidence as he is thrust into the den of alpha male dogs all looking for the easiest targets.

During the walk, Papillon whispers to Dego, who is known to have millions, a deal guaranteeing his safety in exchange for Dego underwriting his escape. After an unfortunate incident, he quickly agrees Papillon's deal is for him and the two become inseparable.

Arriving on the island, we hear from the Warden, played by Yorick van Wageningen, the best as prisoners you can hope for is to serve your sentence. Escape, he explains to the new arrivals, is impossible. If, by chance a prisoner survives the harsh elements, upon capture he will be sent to two years in solitary confinement, on the second attempt, five years in solitary and if a third attempt is tried prisoners will be sent to Devil's Island, where the prison sits in the middle of the sea, on a volcanic made island, with sheer cliffs dropping 500 feet or more into the ocean.

Papillon has one eye on escape and the other on protecting Dego. As it is the prison population is the worst of society, the underbelly of humanity, and Dego, as we see during the first third of the film is barely able to navigate the extreme conditions.

He emerges during the second act, when Papillion is taken from him and sentenced to two years of solitary. The story of their remarkable friendship forged in the harshest of times and conditions, becomes a strengthening bond for both. Hope, as we see, holds Papillon and keeps him when all is taken.

Papillon is extraordinary! I was instantly captivated.

The film, and of course, as it is a remake, with Steve McQueen playing the original Papillon and Dustin Hoffman, the original Dego, great performances are available for reference. And the work of the master screenwriter, Dalton Trumbo and Lorenzo Semple, Jr., who left priceless riches for Aaron Guzikowski, one only needed the right casting to create an amazing remake.

The ensemble of talent, from the beginning to the bittersweet ending, provides incredible, enthralling, vivid performances. The director found perfection with Charlie Hunnam and Rami Malek.


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It is a film of harsh realities, of a time when punishment was at times harsher then the crime and others when the punishment didn't go far enough. Power shows itself in the rawest forms, and corruption rules.

Papillon is the best remake of any film I have ever seen! It captures the attention  and holds on. There is not one moment in the film that is wasted in delivery of emotion. Four Stars! Perfect acting, directing. Resonating, riveting, impressive.

Papillon opens August 24, 2018. See this film.

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