PAPILLON (2018)

August 23, 2018

 Greetings again from the darkness. It seems like most every remake that comes around begs the question, “Why?” This is especially true when the film being remade is a favorite such as 1973’s PAPILLON. The original was directed by Oscar winner Franklin J. Schaffner (PATTON, THE PLANET OF THE APES, THE BOYS FROM BRAZIL), and starred two legendary actors, Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman. The screenplay was written by Dalton Trumbo and Lorenzo Semple Jr, and was based on the Henri Carriere books “Papillon” and “Banco”. Mr. Carriere was, of course, the titular Papillon himself, and though the specifics of his stories have been met with skepticism over the years, he nonetheless delivered some fascinating material.

So why make the film again 45 years later? Well this is a kinder, gentler version and features two of today’s most popular actors: Charlie Hunnam (“Sons of Anarchy”) and Rami Malek (“Mr. Robot”) as Papillon and Louis Dega, respectively. The screenplay from Aaron Guzikowski (PRISONERS) focuses more on the friendship and less on the brutal prison environment. Director Michael Noer (I’m admittedly unfamiliar with his previous work) delivers a movie that looks very good and works as an example of loyalty and bonding.

The film opens in 1931 Paris and we witness Papillon (so known because of the butterfly tattoo on his chest) doing what he does … safecracking for a powerful mobster. He seems to be living the good life with his girlfriend (played by Eve Hewson, Bono’s daughter) and they have plans to escape this life of crime – always an ominous sign in movies. Sure enough, he is framed for murder and sent to the penal colony in French Guiana. It’s there that he meets Louis Dega (Malek), a master counterfeiter. Dega is a soft and slight man, and the wad of cash hidden in his nether-regions puts a target squarely on his back. So Papillon’s brawn and need for cash to grease the wheels of his escape, and Dega’s need for protection, make this the match made in heaven (or in this case, hell).

Being a man of eternal optimism, Papillon never loses faith that he will escape, even when the warden (a terrific Yorick van Wageningen from Fincher’s THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO) explains that hope is his enemy. The years spent in solitary confinement rob Papillon of years and weight, but never hope. A final stint on Devil’s Island reunites the two men who share a bond that only such harsh circumstances could build. Since we know that Henri Carriere wrote the manuscripts for the books in 1969, the ending is known before we start; however it’s the telling of the story that allows us to come to know both Papillon and Dega.

This latest script does a better job of developing the friendship, as well as providing Papi’s past and reason to live. The original nailed a man’s commitment to surviving, while this one makes hope more of a philosophy. Lacking the magic of McQueen, Mr. Noer’s version doesn’t quite compare, but for those who have never seen the 1973 film, this one should prove quite engaging – even if we old-timers don’t buy into the kinder/gentler approach.

Watch the trailer:


PRISONERS (2013)

September 23, 2013

prisoners1 Greetings again from the darkness. This film is one of those goldmines for discussion and debate. Each successive scene begs the viewer to judge the actions of those involved, but even beyond that, the movie is screaming to be picked apart by those of us prone to do so. It’s actually the best of both worlds for film lovers … it challenges us on a personal and moral basis, and also as one who analyzes scripts, acting choices, and filmmaking techniques.

Having seen the trailer, I was very much aware of the foundation of the film … two young girls are kidnapped and, frustrated with the lack of progress by the police, one of the dads seeks his own form of justice. So I couldn’t help but cringe with the obvious metaphor opening scene where Hugh Jackman’s character (Keller Dover) experiences one of those life-bonding moments with his teenage son Ralph (played by Dylan Minnette). Once past that, the set-up is expertly handled … two middle class families sharing friendship and Thanksgiving dinner. Keller and his prisoners4wife Holly (Maria Bello) have two kids: Dylan and their young daughter Anna (Erin Gerasimokovich). Their neighborhood friends Franklin and Nancy are played by Terrence Howard and Viola Davis, who have a teenage daughter Eliza (Zoe Borde) and young daughter Joy (Kyla Drew Simmons). Perfect families and perfect friends shattered by a horrific ordeal when the young girls go missing. The main suspect is a simplistic man-child who drives a ratty RV. Alex Jones is played by Paul Dano in the most uncompromising manner possible.  He lives a simple existence with his aunt, played by Melissa Leo.

prisoners3 Enter Detective Loki (played by Jake Gyllenhaal). Loki is an odd bird who never lets a case go unsolved. His quirky personality and facial ticks and buttoned-up shirt provide us with enough backstory that we understand his dogged pursuit and need to work alone. As the story unfolds, we are overwhelmed with an abundance of terrific story lines. In fact, there are so many that we feel downright cheated at all the deadends and dropped-cold sub-plots.

As a father, I certainly could relate to Keller’s relentless, stop-at-nothing pursuit of the first and only lead. Exactly where would I draw the line for my own actions? I can’t answer that other than to say that I totally understood his approach. That’s not to say I condone such actions, only that I fully empathize. Holly’s reaction to the ordeal is to curl up in bed with prisoners2meds. That too is understandable. Loki’s frustration with his own department and the false leads is also understandable. So while each character’s actions make sense, the viewer’s frustration is palpable, not just because of these things, but in the mis-use of such fine actors as Mr. Howard, Ms. Davis, and Ms. Leo. Jackman, Gyllenhaal and Dano dominate through much different methods, yet we viewers constantly find ourselves wanting to know more about the teenage kids, the priest played by Len Cariou, and of course, the Howard and Davis characters.

You will pick up on some thematic similarites to films such as The Lovely Bones, Primal Fear, Ransom, and Mystic River.  The film’s message is not vague; it’s even overly obvious. Keller is a survivalist … the kind of guy who is prepared for any disaster. No matter how prepared one is, the loss of a child will test your morals, faith and inner-strength. What would you do? How far would you go? Is there a line you won’t cross to protect your family? Those questions are much simpler until real life forces you to answer.

One thing you will quickly notice is just how stunningly beautiful this film is. The credits provide the answer in Director of Cinematographer Roger Deakins, probably the best in the business. French-Canadian Director Denis Villenueve gave us the exceptional Incendies, and while this one has plenty to offer, I believe some fine-tuning with writer Aaron Guzikowski (Contraband) could have elevated this one to Oscar worthy material. So take your friends and be prepared for post-movie discussion. Everyone will have their own thoughts and opinions. That doesn’t make this a great movie, but it serves the purpose of getting us to question our faith and beliefs.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you are willing to question your own moral bounds when the safety of your family is at stake OR you enjoy personal thrillers in the whodunnit mode.

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you prefer taut thrillers with few loose ends and easy puzzle pieces to assemble along the way

watch the trailer:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bpXfcTF6iVk