Saturday, May 26, 2012
Movie Review: Papillon (1973)
A true story of prison escape and the dogged pursuit of freedom, Papillon is both rousing and inspiring, enriched by an engaging Steve McQueen performance.
But an aggressive attitude and the hostile environment thwart his many escape attempts and land Papillon in deeper trouble, including a long stint in solitary confinement that almost kills him. Undeterred, he regains his health and again escapes, this time making it to a leper colony and onto a stretch of freedom with a native tribe, before being recaptured and confined to another long stint in solitary confinement. Despite his advancing years, Papillon is a man who never gives up on freedom and yet again starts to plan another daring escape.
McQueen made his name as the most famous prisoner in The Great Escape, another fact-based prison drama. Here, he takes the prison life and the love of freedom to another level, the Papillon character challenging common sense to repeatedly defy the odds and seek all possible ways to break the shackles. McQueen combines his typical tough and cool persona with increased humanity, and his latter scenes as the aged Charrier, bowed but not beaten and still seeking a seemingly impossible escape, are particularly touching and memorable.
Dustin Hoffman leaves less of an impression, the role of Louis Dega apparently bulked up for the sake of the movie, leaving Hoffman somewhat struggling for purpose and ultimately almost reduced to the role of tottering comic side-kick.
The jungles of Devil's Island are a spectacular prison, and the confinement buildings are epic examples of monuments constructed to ensure the suffering of tough men. Schaffner finds the perfect setting of daunting rock bluffs and churning water for Papillon's final, death-defying escape attempt, and as an exclamation point allows McQueen to perform an eye-popping stunt.
A defiant and invincible spirit refusing to settle for anything short of absolute freedom and willing to suffer through any pain to achieve it, Papillon is proof that although it may take years, when there is a strong-enough will, there is usually a way.
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