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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Papillon (2017) (Blu-ray)
Papillon (2017) (Blu-ray)
Universal // R // October 30, 2018 // Region Free
List Price: $22.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by William Harrison | posted November 27, 2018 | E-mail the Author
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THE FILM:

Charlie Hunnam and Rami Malek are excellent in this well-shot, competently directed and perhaps unnecessary remake of the 1973 film. Based on autobiographies of French criminal Henri Charriere, as well as the original film, Michael Noer's Papillon covers much of the same ground as its predecessor. Charriere, nicknamed "Papillon" or "Butterfly" in English, is framed for murder and sent to prison in 1933 at the Devil's Island penal colony in French Guiana. There, Papillon befriends and protects counterfeiter Louis Dega (Malek), and the men form a bond that lasts years despite their separation during periods of their incarceration. Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman were iconic in these roles, and despite the strong work by these new leads, one cannot help but wonder whether Papillon is already a story worth retelling.

Although you see the horrors of Devil's Island in this updated film, you do not quite live them as you do alongside McQueen in the Dalton Trumbo-scripted original. McQueen had a presence that even the sly Hunnam cannot hope to match, though he certainly tries. After a night of boozing with his lounge dancer girl, Papillon is arrested, charged and convicted of the murder of a local pimp. He is sent to Devil's Island and immediately begins planning an escape. He learns that Dega is rich from passing counterfeit notes, and that he is storing some of his money inside his body. Papillon takes the meek man under his wing in exchange for Dega's promise to bankroll any escape plan. There are several, and it is hardly a spoiler to reveal that little goes as planned. The warden sees that prisoners who attempt escape are guillotined, and Papillon must fight off both his and Dega's enemies amid brutal living conditions.

Although it is a bit shorter, this new Papillon largely follows the original's storyline after adding an extended opening. There are some diversions here and there, and Hunnam, best known for his work on "Sons of Anarchy," makes the character his own. I certainly believed his performance, and Hunnam proves to have both the physical attributes and acting chops to play the stoic, contemplative Papillon. I was surprised how well the actor held the screen, and I was certainly more impressed with this dramatic work here than I have been with past performances. Malek is quietly powerful and impressive too, which shouldn't be a surprise given the rave reviews for his current Bohemian Rhapsody headlining performance. I say Malek is actually more effective than Hoffman in the role, as he plays more fluidly against his co-star. If nothing else, these two actors and Danish director Noer, best known for his documentary work, get the acting, pacing and staging right.

Hagen Bogdanski's cinematography is also beautiful, and highlights the stunning pockets of humanity and natural landscape present in a sea of death and sadness. This remake does remind viewers what happens to a man left in isolation and without hope for months, years on end. This movie is not really about whether Papillon is a criminal or not; though it wants you to believe he did not commit murder. It is about a friendship of necessity that blooms into one of respect and love. There are some effective sequences, like Papillon's long stent in solitary following a brutal guard attack, but there are also sections of the film, particularly in the final act, that drag on too long. Noer does keep the other inmates largely at arm's length, and, despite the aforementioned sequence in solitary, Papillon occasionally gets lost amid its surroundings. Or perhaps I should say the surroundings get lost in Papillon. I find no fault with the performances here, but I cannot say this film absolutely needed to be made despite its pedigree.

THE BLU-RAY:

PICTURE:

The 2.40:1/1080p/AVC-encoded image is gorgeous. Fine-object detail and texture are off the charts. Facial features are abundant; from the blood and dirt-covered faces of inmates after a fight to the weary lines of resignation on an older Papillon. Wide shots are crystal clear and stretch for miles. The landscapes and sets of Devil's Island are striking. Fabrics and set dressings are crystal clear and intimately detailed. Colors are rich and perfectly saturated; skin tones remain natural; and highlights never bloom despite the harsh sunlight in some outdoor scenes. Nighttime scenes are equally impressive, with only very minimal crush in dense environments. The image looks natural and fantastic in motion, and I noticed no technical flaws to speak of. This is pretty much the top of the format at this point.

SOUND:

The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix is plenty immersive, despite the majority of the film being dialogue driven. Environmental effects are prevalent throughout, and they subtly and pleasingly surround the viewer. Inmate chatter, wind and rain, and crowd noise make use of effective sound panning. The isolation is audible as Papillon rots in solitary. A brutal fight offers stark, crackling violence, visceral surround action and LFE ruckus. The score is deep and integrated appropriately. Clarity and range are excellent throughout. English SDH and Spanish subtitles are included.

PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:

This single-disc release is packed in a standard case that is wrapped in a lightly embossed slipcover. The package includes an HD digital copy. The only bonus feature is a short reel of deleted scenes in high definition.

FINAL THOUGHTS:

This Papillon remake is not a failure, but it is also not necessary. Charlie Hunnam is excellent as French convict Papillon, imprisoned at Devil's Island and forced to deal with violence, isolation and hopelessness. He cannot match Steve McQueen's dramatic flair, but he does not have to. Rami Malek steps into the role Dustin Hoffman made famous in 1973 and bests his performance. This Blu-ray looks and sounds excellent but only offers deleted scenes as a bonus. Rent It and see if you will ever revisit Papillon (2017) again.

William lives in Burlington, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.

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