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Film Review: Papillon's Penitentiary Plunge

by Todd A. Smith

 

The film “Papillon” is in theaters now.


 

Nothing Special 

 

1/2

 


Imagine that you sit in a South American prison, convicted of murder.


Sure you dabble in theft of jewels and other luxury items, but murderer does not exist on your resume.


You have a devoted girlfriend who believes in your innocence. But you know a future for you all does not exist, because everyone in power had something to do with your predicament and the only way out of the quandary you find yourself in is to escape captivity.


But like Alcatraz lives in infamy because of the difficulty of escape, this South American prison is like the Alcatraz of its continent.


If you get captured trying to escape, you risk years in solitary confinement.


If you kill someone while imprisoned, the guillotine awaits you.


And if you manage to escape, you have to survive on a continent that is foreign to you and where the inhabitants do not speak your language.


Your life of luxury in 1930s Paris has gotten replaced by a life of squalor, scandal and plans of escape akin to suicide.


In the remake of the 1973 film, based on a true story, entitled, “Papillon,” Henri “Papillon” Charriere (Charlie Hunnam, “The Lost City of Z”) knows that he has no future in theft.


However, Papi is so good at cracking safes and stealing money, jewels and other valuable items that he makes more in one night than most people in Paris make in an entire year.


He is able to provide his girlfriend, Nenette (Eve Hewson) with a life of luxurious.


But the only thing that Nenette wants is stability, safety and Papi.


She proposes that the couple move to the country.


However, Papi does not see as many opportunities for his line of work in the country as he sees in the big city of Paris with all of its high rollers, movers and shakers.


Just as Papi promises to Nenette that he will leave the life of crime in six months time, Paris police officers bust into their home and arrest Papi for murder.


Stunned by the turn of events, Papi tries to replay some of the past events in his mind, knowing that his arrest must be some sort of mistake.


When he realizes that he has been set up, he promises Nenette that he will be back home in no time when he sorts out the confusion with law enforcement.

 

Unfortunately, when Papi realizes just how serious the set up job is, his only hope will be an improbable escape from an isolated and dangerous Latin American prison in which murder inside the walls is more prevalent than outside of the prison fences.

 

Although many of the prisoners are hardened criminals from rough backgrounds, Louis Dega (Rami Malek, “Bohemian Rhapsody”) is the complete opposite.

 

Louis comes from a well-to-do elite family.

 

Despite his family’s affluence, Louis has still taken up a career of white-collar crime, getting sentenced to prison time for forgery.

 

Louis even has the audacity to look down upon Papi for breaking into safes, as if one form of theft is better than another former of theft.

 

Rumor has it that Louis has ingested tons of money into his stomach, which requires him to defecate in order to retrieve it.

 

However, when someone has lots of money they often find themselves the target of those without money.

 

Therefore, when the rumor begins to circulate widely throughout the prison and it is clear that Louis’ life is in extreme danger, Papi offers him protection for pay.

 

Papi will protect Louis in exchange for a certain amount of money because it will cost Papi money to pull of such a high-risk escape attempt.

 

“Papillon” resonates because many people can empathize and sympathize with Papi’s plight.

 

Whether it’s the chain gangs of the Jim Crow South, the concentration camps in Europe during the Holocaust or the current prison industrial complex and the horrors of the 13 Amendment to the United States Constitution, many people around the world can relate to false imprisonment and an unjust system designed to keep the haves in power and the have nots struggling to survive.

 

Papi is a pawn in a bigger scandal, and the powers that be might be too powerful to defeat legally and through the so-called justice system.

 

“Papillon,” like many Hollywood films throughout the decades, represents the true underdog story.

 

One man has to fight an entire system by himself, making it almost impossible not to root for him.

 

With no weapons, money or help, Papi has to fight to get his life back from the people trying so desperately to erase any memory of him on the outside of those prison boundaries.

 

On the other hand, Louis represents the classic person of means, or the haves, because he believes his money and his position in society will shield him from the horrors of the have nots, even if he is guiltier than his less affluent counterparts in prison.

 

Louis quickly has to realize that money and power cannot shield you from life.

 

And life has many ups, downs, disappointments and defeats.

 

How a person responds in situations of adversity and oppression determines what kind of person they ultimately become.

 

And although he is timid and meek, Louis has to determine if he will allow his meekness to turn into weakness, which could ultimately cost him his life in prison.


Hunnam is a brilliant actor and he does not disappoint in “Papillon.”


Furthermore, 2018 could be Malek’s year to take home several gold statues.


And although Malek does his thing in “Papillon,” moviegoers will find him much more intriguing as the late rock star Freddie Mercury in the upcoming Queen biopic, “Bohemian Rhapsody.”


Despite the performances by stellar actors, the story in “Papillon” is nothing special because the story has appeared in movies for many years.


The story of the underdog or the oppressed overcoming their predicament is as Hollywood as beautiful weather and beautiful scenery.


It is to be expected.


Hollywood will have to break out of their prison of remakes and formulaic movies in order to give moviegoers the unexpected.



REGAL RATINGS

FOUR CROWNS=EXCELLENT

THREE CROWNS=GOOD

TWO CROWNS=AVERAGE

ONE CROWN=POOR

This article was published on Friday 24 August, 2018.
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