Release Date(s)2017 (November 6, 2018)
Studio(s)Bleecker Street Media (Universal Pictures Home Entertainment)
- Film/Program Grade: B+
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: C
Papillon is based upon the memoir of Henri “Papillon” Charriere (Charlie Hunnam, The Lost City of Z), a safecracker in 1930s France, nicknamed for the butterfly tattoo on his chest. Framed for a murder he did not commit, Charriere is convicted and sentenced to several years in a penal colony in French Guiana. During the ocean voyage, he forms an alliance with fellow prisoner Louis Degas (Rami Malek, TV’s Mr. Robot). Degas is a forger of government bonds. Papillon is strong and resilient. The frail Degas has the means to finance his escape.
After a two-year stint in solitary confinement and repeated escape attempts, additional years are tacked on to Papillon’s sentence. Over time, mutual suspicion gives way to respect and friendship. Charriere serves as Degas’ protector and Degas’s smuggled money serves to pay bribes to make their life in prison bearable.
Director Michael Noer provides a vivid portrayal of the brutality of prison conditions. The warden states with cold determination, “France has disowned you. Forget France,” and we’re witness to the desperation that drives incarcerated men to violence and even murder. The oppressive heat can practically be felt as the men walk through the jungle or assemble in the prison courtyard under blazing sun to be told the rigid rules of the prison. A successful escape is nearly impossible, given the prison’s remote location, heavy security, and standing orders for guards to shoot attempted escapees.
Hunnam initially plays Papillon as a strong, even arrogant prisoner, determined that he will not be broken. The longer he remains, however, the more his silent bravado is weakened, though never broken. He is hog-tied, whipped, and starved, yet he perseveres with the help of Degas. The protector role switches from Papillon to Degas as the two men navigate the horrors of incarceration.
Malek, small of stature and delicate of feature, embodies Degas, an intelligent man who’s able to survive a nightmare existence as long as his money holds out. Though he initially rebuffs Papillon’s offer of protection, a horrible event in a crowded cell terrifies him into realizing how vulnerable he is. Together, the men are the brains and brawn essential to endure deprivation on many levels.
Visual quality on the 1080p HD Blu-ray release is sharp with clear detail, including the tattoos on Papillon’s chest, jungle vegetation, facial sweat, and dirt on prison clothes. Aspect ratio is 2.40:1. Audio is English 5.1 DTS-HD with good left/center/right balance and excellent clarity, with the musical score supporting, not overwhelming the narrative. Dynamite explosions and gunshots are loud, and the realistic sound of bullets hitting and zipping through water is impressive.
The only bonus material is a series of deleted scenes.
Jewelry Store Safe Crack – On the Boulevard de Clichy in 1930 Paris, Charriere opens a safe, steals diamonds and escapes into the street crowd.
Intro to Troubouillard – Prisoners enter courtyard and are told the rules of the prison.
Hog Tie Through Devil’s Island – Degas talks to Papillon after he’s returned to his cell after getting into a fight to protect him. Degas wants to be assured that Papillon can still protect him. Aboard a ship bound for Devil’s Island, they discuss the impossibility of escape.
Manhunters Intro – Armed men are seen as prisoners march through the jungle to the prison.
Prison Clothes – Degas retrieves money from a body orifice to pay for prison clothes. Papillon and Degas get dressed.
Doctor Inspection – Incoming prisoners are inspected by a physician as they enter the prison. Doctor diagnoses a man unfit for work, but a guard puts him into a work detail. Papillon refuses to open his mouth and is deemed fit for work.
– Dennis Seuling