Verdict: An incredibly true story lifted by great performances.
Papillon isn’t the first time Henri Charrière‘s memoirs are being adapted for the big screen. Even today, his incredible story remains fascinating. Directed by Michael Noer, the latest film is a thrilling tale of a persistent man who is determined to escape the harsh prison system any way he can.
What’s Papillon About:
Henri ‘Papillon’ Charrière (Charlie Hunnam) is a safecracker in 1930s Paris, called by that name because of the butterfly tattoo on his chest. After being wrongfully accused of murder and given a life sentence, he is shipped to French Guiana in South America where prisoners live out the remainder of their lives. There, he befriends a fellow inmate, Louis Dega (Rami Malek), who was a millionaire convicted of counterfeiting. Papillon uses Dega’s help and finance to plan his escape from the penal colony. Even as they face impossible odds, Papillon has a strong resolve to break out of prison.
Being based on a true story makes Papillon an incredibly more powerful film than the usual fare of fictional prison break films. The events you see in the film come from a man who has lived through them, who had the incredible strength to not perish, and who keep fighting back.
Charlie Hunnam shows incredible dedication to the role, even going as far as losing weight by aggressively starving himself for the period of time that his character is kept in solitary confinement. Rami Malek, too, underwent a similar transformation to achieve the gaunt prisoner look for the sake of authenticity. The two of them work well together to show how two completely different men from different walks of life have to work with each other to survive in prison. Hunnam plays the charming criminal who knows how cut-throat conditions can get and Malek plays the shocked elite who has to come to terms with what his life has become. Both the actors give realistic performances that immerse you in their world.
Papillon doesn’t shy away from brutality either. The prisoners face a tough life and you realize the extent of how bad it gets and marvel how anyone manages to survive there. While this is a period drama, it still makes you question whether prisoners ever deserve to be treated that way – whether it was decades ago or today. At the end of the film, you even get to see real-life footage and pictures that make the whole film that much more sobering.
What Could’ve Been Better:
There are parts of Papillon that move a little slow but the performance of the actors keeps you engaged throughout.
Why You Should Watch:
If you aren’t familiar with Charrière’s astonishing story through his books or the 1973 film, Papillon is a great way to discover it. This gritty real-life account will definitely keep you rooting for Papillon throughout, making it even more satisfying to see how he fares when the film ends.