Main cast: Charlie Hunnam (Henri “Papillon” Charrière), Rami Malek (Louis Dega), Yorick van Wageningen (Warden Barrot), Roland Møller (Celier), Tommy Flanagan (Masked Breton), Eve Hewson (Nenette), Michael Socha (Julot), Brian Vernel (Guittou), Ian Beattie (Toussaint), Nicholas Asbury (Commandant), and Nikola Kent (Deputy Warden Brioulet)
Director: Michael Noer
Papillon is loosely inspired by the real Henri Charrière’s autobiography of the same name, which means it’s mostly highly-dramatized fiction. Not that there is anything wrong with this, as come on, this is why people watch movies, but it makes the “let’s all be inspired by history and remember the lives of those who were victims of injustice” thing this movie eventually devolved into during its final moments feel very disingenuous.
I’m not sure how Charlie Hunnam and Rami Malek fare if we compare them to Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman who starred in the 1973 movie of the same name and story, as I have never seen the other film, but oh my, they are so nice to look at. Since this is a prison story, that means ample scenes of these guys with their chest bared, and one scene of bare-arsed glory (alas, it’s not the sexy kind), and coupled to the lovely camerawork and scenery, this movie is basically a lovely kind of soft porn that one can watch with the whole family.
Oh yes, the story. Henri is a thief who does pretty well for himself in the crime scene of Paris in the early 1900s when he is accused of murdering a pimp and is eventually sent off to the St-Laurent-du-Maroni in the French Guiana. Here, convicts are sent to work in hard labor after serving their sentence, so it’s basically an exile from which one will never return from. During his stint, he meets counterfeiter Louis Dega. Henri offers Dega his bodyguard service if that man would finance his escape effort, and after seeing a fellow prisoner get shanked and disemboweled next to him, Dega quickly agrees. These two eventually become best buddies behind bars.
The story itself is pretty lightweight, and it lacks the usual gravitas and tension associated with a prison movie. Papillon seems more interested in showcasing scene after scene of well-lit, beautifully shot of Mr Hunnam, Mr Malek, and the rest of the bewilderingly good-looking men of all varieties. Instead of making me go “Oh my goodness, what will happen next?”, I sit back and take in the scenery, while sighing at all those lovely moments of Henri and Dega looking deep at one another’s eyes, the way Henri is so protective of the more delicate Dega…
Oh ya, I hate to disappoint those hoping for a different kind of bromance, but these two aren’t hooking up anytime soon. I know! I want to scream by the time the movie ends, “Come on! Not even one bloody kiss? Spoilsports!”
So yes, Papillon. It’s an okay movie. It won’t be the most memorable or exciting film ever, but it’s easily one of the prettiest. Watch this if you like to look at good-looking men and scenery, especially if you have a vivid imagination for muscular jock and bespectacled nerd pairings. Just don’t have high hopes for everything else, because that’s the best way to enjoy the pretty.
Seriously. Not even a kiss? Assholes.