Cinema has blessed the world with several great prison dramas. Indeed, The Shawshank Redemption regularly features at the top of ‘greatest films’ lists. Then there’s Cool Hand Luke, The Grand Illusion, Escape from Alcatraz, The Rock, The Great Escape and many, many more. As well as the former Christmas favourite, Steve McQueen also starred behind bars in the classic Papillon (with Dustin Hoffman). Michael Noer’s remake doesn’t quite have the same impact but is entertaining nonetheless.
When safecracker Henri “Papillon” Charrière (Charlie Hunnam) decides to skim some off the top for himself, he winds up being framed for murder. He’s shipped out of Paris to serve the sentence in a penal colony on French Guiana. He befriends a counterfeiter Louis Dega (Rami Malek) who Henri offers to protect in exchange for enough money to escape. However, despite his best efforts, no one has ever broken out of Devil’s Island.
Based on Charrière’s autobiographies, Papillon is a well-made drama about an almost unbelievable story. Although whilst Noer’s film has its moments and is entertaining enough, it doesn’t really live-up to Franklin J. Schaffner’s 1973 original. And let’s be honest, Hunnam and Malek are no McQueen and Hoffman. Having said that, there are few things more compelling than one man’s attempt to escape injustice. Whilst Papillon hardly revolutionises cinema, it’s still grand old-fashioned entertainment.
Papillon is out in cinemas from 21 December.