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Papillon **

Poorly structured and lacking logic, it’s a remake of the 1973 classic that shouldn’t have been remade. 

Is it worth $10? No 

Henri “Papillon” Charriere must have been the most honorable criminal in history. According to “Papillon,” he’s practically a saint. He’s introduced as a safecracking thief in the early moments, but that’s literally the only bad thing he does before telling his girlfriend (Eve Hewson) he wants to provide a good life for her and being framed for murder.

It’s a rushed first 25 minutes, followed by a labored remaining two hours in which Papillon (Charlie Hunnam) is sent to prison in French Guiana in South America. There he plots his escape with a weakling counterfeiter named Louis Dega (Rami Malek); in exchange for the money he’ll need to escape, Papillon will protect Dega from the other inmates (and guards). An unlikely alliance forms (how couldn’t it when both of you keep the same wad of money in your backside at different times?), and with it comes tedious monotony and head-scratching moments that don’t register as genuine.



For example, there’s a scene in which Papillon and Dega are carrying a corpse through the jungle. The guard starts physically and verbally harassing the frail Dega, at which point Papillon picks up a rock and smashes it onto the guard’s head. Yes, Papillon has sworn to protect Dega, but we must consider two things: 1) The guard wasn’t going to kill Dega, and 2) Papillon knows the penalty for striking a guard is two years in solitary confinement. If you think this through, Papillon sacrificed two years of his life – two years in which it would be impossible to escape – just because a guard was being mean to Dega. The action simply doesn’t justify the consequence Papillon knew would come; worse, he would’ve been executed if the guard died.

To its credit, the fight scenes are gritty and raw. In particular is the sequence in which Papillon and Dega are attacked while showering. They could not be more naked or exposed, meaning it’s pure fortitude on display as Papillon battles three men with weapons, all while also protecting Dega. Unlike the rest of the film, which feels repetitive, this scene is impactful.

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The film is based on Papillon’s true story, as told in the books “Papillon” and “Banco” and first imagined on screen in a 1973 film starring Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman. Lest you think the reason Papillon comes across so well in the movie is because he wrote the book on which it is based, the real Papillon himself admitted only 75 percent of the book is true, an assertion historians have come to believe is generous.

The real criticism here, then, belongs to director Michael Noer and screenwriter Aaron Guzikowski, who failed to take the story and craft the best movie possible from it. Thus if you’re looking to explore the story of “Papillon,” (re)watch the 1973 version.

Did you know?
Archival photos in the end show the real Papillon, and the real French Guiana penal colony in which he was imprisoned.