Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

"The violence is backed up with solitary confinement and mental deprivation"


Why remake one of Steve McQueen's least memorable outings? Having Dustin Hoffman ride shotgun might have persuaded the box office to cough up but this true story of a French safe cracker's experience of life and death on a penal colony in the Thirties where escape was considered a folly too far - they said that about Alcatraz - is better in book form than screen time.

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Charlie Hunnam takes McQueen's role and Mr Robot's very own Rami Malek is the crooked financier with bank notes up his bum. Unfortunately the chemistry between them does not ignite.

Hunnam is made for Marvel, gym fit, good looking, body perfect, but the sex appeal and star quality of McQueen, whose acting skills were never his selling point, is noticeable by its absence. Malek is small, slight and a million light years from being a superhero. He has a great face and a mime artist's ability to use silence to advantage. The character he plays, however, is wasted, misunderstood and hidden in plain sight.

Aficionados of torture porn might find Michael Noer's film as exciting as a public execution. The violence is backed up with solitary confinement and mental deprivation. As for the plot, that's easy - how many ways can you skin a cat?

In the French penal colonies prison guards wore white suits and did what they liked to half naked prisoners. What they liked was beating the hell out of them.

The new Papillon is over two hours long. That's a lot of time and a lot of pain.

Survival is patient, resistance pointless. Planning escape is like playing Solitaire in your head until you give it a go and when the going gets nasty WHAP! the punishment is prolonged.

You think you know the story. After all, the book was an international best seller, but in the film you don't learn anything about anyone. Friendships are not encouraged because fellow prisoners are either feral or as trusting as rats in a sack.

The British POW black-and-whites of the Fifties were stuffed with characters. Papillon is as humorous as a White House policy meeting. The years slip away. The audience waits for retribution, or a reason for staying.

Has hope died?

Reviewed on: 23 Jun 2018
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Papillon packshot
Adaptation of the classic novel about prisoners in a French penal colony.
Amazon link

Director: Michael Noer

Writer: Aaron Guzikowski

Starring: Charlie Hunnam, Rami Malek, Tommy Flanagan, Eve Hewson, Roland Møller, Michael Socha, Christopher Fairbank, Brian Vernel, Nina Senicar, Nicholas Asbury, Ian Beattie, Attila C. Arpa, Yorick van Wageningen, Fernanda Diniz, Joel Basman

Year: 2017

Runtime: 138 minutes

Country: Serbia, Montenegro, Malta, US


EIFF 2018

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