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Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Retro Review: Papillon (1973)

Cast: Dustin Hoffman, Steve McQueen
Genre: Historical Period Drama 
U.S Box Office Gross: over $53 million 

Plot: A man befriends a fellow criminal as the two of them begin serving their sentence on a dreadful prison island, which inspires the man to plot his escape

'Performances Are Worthy Enough To Sit Through What Is A Bloated & Overlong Movie'

A version of The Great Escape, which starred Steve McQueen and set in France meets The Shawshank Redemption, for a period-based drama Papillon is mildly profound and impressive in places, yet unfortunately, it lacks an engrossing and vibrant story to back up the exceptional performances and strays way too comfortably when it ought to have really have gone the distance.  

McQueen is Papillon: a convict who is sent to prison on an Island in French Guyana after being wrongly convicted of murdering a pimp. The screenplay was based on a 1969 autobiography by French convict, Henri Charriere. Steve McQueen plays the self-titled character. From there on, he meets up with and befriends fellow prisoner, Louis Dega played by Dustin Hoffman and the pair of them come up with ways to escape.

As Louis Dega, Dustin looks rather adorkable with the glasses and he has a few nice scenes; there is a nuanced and tenderness to his portrayal as the bumbling yet well-meaning Louis Vega. The scene with Louis on a boat and his foot is being tended to with a hot knife, was for me as scary as the teeth-pulling scene in Marathon Man & whilst it is far from being a truly memorable performance, again, it goes to show how impressive and versatile Hoffman is at playing both offbeat and sincere characters. But it is Steve McQueen, who performance-wise, ultimately owns this film, although together as a duo, they were good. The performances, at most or at least, by Hoffman and McQueen are a good enough reason to sit through it. And but for their friendship as well, the film doesn't really give any real insight into the characters and thus, Steve McQueen's Papillon & Dustin Hoffman's Louis are very much an afterthought, with the main story being the real focus. 

The film clocks in at over a bum-numbing 2 hours and this runtime is awfully long-winded and as a 2 hour + film, I expected a whole lot from this movie that was going to keep me peeled all the way through. The story fluctuates and the film's pacing issues make it a tad bloated. This felt very unforgiving. The attempted escape scenes are all short-lived and whilst this is needed to prolong the longevity of the film, everything else seems to be way drawn out. I think once Louis and Papillon and their friend manage to break free and get away and flee from the prison, the film slightly improves and it was nice to see their friendship blossoming in the wake of their survival.  At least with this film unlike Straight Time, it kept me peeled on occasions far more so than the former. Although the last third does go down a weird and surreal path and is so unlike anything resembling the first hour of Papillon

Final Verdict

If it wasn't for this film running at over 2 hours long and the rather bloated story, I would have enjoyed it a whole lot more. The first hour was exceedingly dull, come the last 30 mins of the second hour it became more interesting, but thanks to the fine performances given by Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman and the impressive production, it makes what would have been a drawn-out and weary viewing experience into a tad more bearable one. 

All in all, Papillon is a film everyone should see at least once in their lives, not to mention it is something I would revisit once every couple of months. However, at times I do wish that there had been more energy given to the story to further enhance the film and that as a feature, it was less gruelling to withstand. 


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