Charlie Hunnam (The Lost City of Z) and Rami Malek (Mr. Robot) take on the roles previously played by Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman, in this new screen adaptation of Henri Charrière’s memoir of his imprisonment and repeated escapes from the notorious penal colony of Devil’s Island.
Henri Charrière, naval veteran turned small-time criminal, served 11 years, more than 4,000 days, in a penal colony in French Guiana — and spent every one of those days either planning or attempting an escape. Written by Aaron Guzikowski (Prisoners) and helmed by director Michael Noer, this vivid new rendition of Charrière's story of endurance (made famous by Franklin J. Schaffner's 1973 film featuring Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman) stars Charlie Hunnam and Mr. Robot's Rami Malek as men whose bodies and minds are pushed to the very limit.
We first meet Charrière (Hunnam) cheerfully navigating the underworld of 1931 Paris. Charrière pisses off the wrong people, finds himself framed for murder, and is sentenced to serve his time in a feared, faraway, and inescapable jungle prison in St-Laurent-du-Maroni. En route, Charrière meets Louis Dega (Malek), a fellow convict with little of Charrière's brawn, but with lots of something else Charrière requires if he's to break out: money. Thus begins the story of an alliance that, as years of hard labour, punishing heat, and terms in solitary pass, becomes something like friendship.
Noer never shies from depicting life at St-Laurent-du-Maroni in all its grueling detail, yet there is beauty here too: in scenes of men at work in their picturesque, if punishing, physical environment, or those moments of giddy satisfaction every time a guard manages to sneak Charrière a coconut, or especially when an escape plan is executed (or nearly). Papillon's playful prison-escape pageant is pure popcorn pleasure.