PAPILLON – Review by Susan Granger

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If you saw Franklin Schaffner’s 1973 Steve McQueen/Dustin Hoffman adaptation of Henri Charriere’s best-selling autobiographical books (“Papillon” & “Banco”), you’d feel acute disappointment within the first 10 minutes of this decidedly mediocre version. In Paris in the early 1930s, Henri Charrier (Charlie Hunan) is a reckless safecracker who’s framed for murder and shipped off to a the notorious penal colony on the remote island of French Guiana, located on the north Atlantic coast of South America. It was established by the French emperor Napoleon III in 1852.

Leaving Marseilles, he offers to ‘protect’ delicate, diminutive currency counterfeiter Louis Dega (Rami Malek), who has money stashed away.

Called ‘Papillon’ for the butterfly tattooed on his chest, Charrier repeatedly plots their escape, despite repeated warnings by sadistic Warden Barrot (Yorick Van Wageningen) and eventual incarceration on the former leper settlement known as Devil’s Island. Stubbornly determined, he eventually succeeds after surviving years in silent, solitary confinement.

According to historical records, more than 80,000 of the men imprisoned there were never seen again. Escape from the rocky, palm-covered, disease-infested island was considered impossible, since the surrounding sea was infested with piranhas and sharks.

Based on Charriere’s grim memoirs and the Dalton Trumbo/Lorenzo Sample Jr. screenplay, it’s been adapted by Aaron Guzikowski and helmed by Danish director Michael Noer with the two leading roles re-created by actors most recognizable from TV: Charlie Hunnam (“Sons of Anarchy”) and Rami Malek (“Mr. Robot”).

Despite suffering the starvation diet and lack of medical/dental care, Hunnam’s teeth remain sparkling bright, his body perfectly toned and his haircut barbershop-fresh. That inconsistency is almost laughable.

FYI: After 1938, the government of France stopped sending prisoners there and, in 1952, the prison was closed permanently. At present, the Salvation Islands (Isles du Salut) – of which Devil’s Island is a part – is used for studying space launches. More than 50,000 tourists visit annually to walk through the prison grounds.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, Papillon falls flat with a 4. For real drama, see the original.

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Susan Granger

Susan Granger is a product of Hollywood. Her natural father, S. Sylvan Simon, was a director and producer at R.K.O., M.G.M. and Columbia Pictures; her adoptive father, Armand Deutsch, produced movies at M.G.M. As a child, Susan appeared in movies with Abbott & Costello, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Margaret O'Brien and Lassie. She attended Mills College in California, studying journalism with Pierre Salinger, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, Phi Beta Kappa, with highest honors in journalism. During her adult life, Susan has been on radio and television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic. Her newspaper reviews have been syndicated around the world, and she has appeared on American Movie Classics cable television. In addition, her celebrity interviews and articles have been published in REDBOOK, PLAYBOY, FAMILY CIRCLE, COSMOPOLITAN, WORKING WOMAN and THE NEW YORK TIMES, as well as in PARIS MATCH, ELLE, HELLO, CARIBBEAN WORLD, ISLAND LIFE, MACO DESTINATIONS, NEWS LIMITED NEWSPAPERS (Australia), UK DAILY MAIL, UK SUNDAY MIRROR, DS (France), LA REPUBBLICA (Italy), BUNTE (Germany), VIP TRAVELLER (Krisworld) and many other international publications through SSG Syndicate. Susan also lectures on the "Magic and Mythology of Hollywood" and "Don't Take It Personally: Conquering Criticism and other Survival Skills," originally published on tape by Dove Audio.