Escaping prison is a cinematic trope that yields as much quality filmmaking, such as Jacques Baker’s Le Trou, as it does-bottom of-the-barrel cinema (see William Beaudine’s Men of San Quentin, if you truly dare). Today, another prison escape movie gets tossed into the fray as Michael Noer’s Papillon gets its first trailer.
Papillon, starring Rami Malek and Charlie Hunnam, is a retelling of the same true story that Franklin J. Schaffner’s film of the same name is based on—that film starred Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman. This new adaptation also follows closely the autobiographies Papillon and Banco, and it tells the tale of how Henri “Papillon” Charrière (Hunnam), a Parisian safecracker, and Louis Dega (Malek), a convicted counterfeiter, helped each other to escape. Dega has the money to fund their escape plan and, in return, Charrière offers Dega protection from the dangers of prison life.
The trailer shows how these men come to meet and the hell that they endure while serving time at a penal colony in French Guiana. Yet, the film seems to be relatively unlike a lot of other prison or prison escape dramas, for it has an aura of magical realism that slowly washes over the trailer as these men’s minds seem to fracture, if ever so slightly, as they endure what becomes of the human experience when left at the far side of the world. A character says, “Strange things happen there, especially to those who cling to hope,” and that seems to be an eleven-word distillation of what this trailer and movie have to offer, both tonally and thematically. To what ends will the human body and mind go to survive, and how does one find hope where there genuinely is none? This question, while thematically base, could make for an interesting film, given that the question’s answer is as intriguing as the trailer for Papillon makes it out to be.
Papillon is directed by Noer, based on an adapted screenplay by Aaron Guzikowski. Appearing alongside the film’s stars Malek and Hunnam are Tommy Flanagan, Eve Hewson and Roland Moller.
Papillon opens on Aug. 24 via Bleecker Street. See the first trailer below.