For those unfamiliar with the story, “Papillon” will provide a few moments of heightened suspense. The script works hard to keep the narrative moving, however with so much story to tell and years to cover, the monotony sets in eventually. Each prison location whether it’s the transport ship, Devil’s Island or solitary, feels like borrowed scenes from better films. In one escape sequence where Rami Malek’s character is the last to descend a wall, we can see the broken leg coming before he even starts to climb. The surprises in the story have more to do with kindness and friendship over plot device. One fight sequence occurs in the shower where Charlie Hunnam fights for his life in the nude, not quite matching the intensity of Viggo Mortensen in “Eastern Promises.”
It occurred to me during some of the slower scenes, that “Papillon” follows the same structure as “The Lost City of Z,” also starring Hunnam. The subject matter isn’t the same, despite both being based on a true story. In both films, a scruffy Hunnam plans escape/expeditions, tries it, goes back to planning, tries again and goes back to planning. But both films failed to appeal to a wide audience, were difficult to market and were extremely monotonous. “Papillon” is the type of story that is moderately interesting once, but having to sit through this again would be near torture with the violence and putrid environment. Some of the more exotic locations and scenarios are shortchanged due to time constraints. Devil’s Island, for instance, is one of the most interesting locations but little screen time is spent there or Colombia where events that have been removed from the film occurred.
For those unfamiliar with the story, “Papillon” will provide a few moments of heightened suspense. The script works hard to keep the narrative moving, however, with so much story to tell and years to cover, the monotony sets in eventually.
Final thought: Papillon has moments of suspense for those who don’t know the story but eventually becomes monotonous.