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Critic Reviews for Papillon
McQueen works hard and al most manages to triumph over his star presence, while Hoffman submerges himself eccentrically and amusingly in his coward's role.
Director Franklin J. Schaffner has succeeded in making a two-and-a-half-hour film that seems like six.
The script is very good within its limitations, but there is insufficient identification with the main characters.
With Schaffner unable to find the necessary perspective to prevent the film from becoming unevenly episodic, it ends up looking as if it were tacked together by at least three different directors.
Audience Reviews for Papillon
With an excellent performance by Steve McQueen and a stunning cinematography that employs a large depth of field to explore the setting and thus the gravity of the situation, this compelling prison film is more than efficient despite losing some of its credibility in the third act.
Based on a true story, but taking a number of liberties, this is Franklin J. Schaffner's sprawling portrait of Henri Charriere- a wrongly imprisoned criminal who made his mark on the world for being one of the few people to ever escape from the infamous French penal colony of Devil's Island.
The film follows Charriere, often referred to as Papillon (French for "butterfly"- based on a prominent tattoo of his), as he deals with incarceration. He is an admitted safe cracker, but his life sentence on Devil's Island is for the murdering of a pimp, something he claims he didn't actually do, and was set up.
Life in the prison is downright grueling, but he struggles through it quite admirably. In his struggle to survive, escape (and escape for good), he is joined by Louis Dega, a counterfeiter whose connections could greatly help Papillon in his quest.
Here's the thing about this movie. It's long. 150 minutes. I've seen a number of films of this length, and a number of them that ran even longer. But, this proved to be one of the more difficult films of this length to get through. It's quite slow, is extremely drawn out, and makes you feel like you've done extensive time in the prison as well.
It's a good movie, don't get me wrong. But it really doesn't need to be this long, are at least not this slow and stretched out.
For that reason, I'm cutting the rating down afair amount. The rest of the film is just fine, though the ending kinda peters out. But the writing is decent, the cinematography is terrific, the score from Jerry Goldsmith is quite good, and we get two excellent performances from Steve McQueen as Papillon and Dustin Hoffman as Dega.
I also loved how the film pulls no punches when it comes to showing the horrors of prison life. I know that PG rated films from the 70s were edgier than they are now, but this is easily one of the hardest PG films ever. I doubt it'd get that rating today. Maybe a strong PG-13. The film has clear messages, and delivers them decently, if just in a plodding way.
All in all, I did enjoy this film, but make sure you're in the right frame of mind, and are up for a really lumbering film.
What greater escape from boredom, than watching two of the finest actors in Hollywood history, making their own grand escape from the shackles of imprisonment. There's just something about these kind of epic prison dramas that always manages to capture every ounce of my attention.
Speaking of great escapes, this is also the first film I've ever seen starring Steve McQueen. Now I could finally see for myself what I've been hearing and reading about for years - and he is indeed an extraordinary actor.
As for the technical achievements of the film, there's more praise to be given here than I have the time to administer. But to highlight some of the essentials, it really made an impression on me with its marvellously written script. Every piece of dialogue has been given a lot of thought and consideration, and right from its very first scene it really absorbed me into the story.
Visually, there's much to revel in as well. Although the situations the characters find themselves in are often harsh and extremely gruesome, many of the locations they travel to are incredibly mesmerizing to the eyes.
Aficionados of the prison genre - and great dramatic work in general - owe it to themselves to see this lush and heart-gripping classic. A fantastic, triumphant and beautifully crafted motion picture, supremely directed by Franklin J. Schaffner. Not to forget Fred J. Koenekamp, whose outstanding cinematography is one of the film's most pleasant components. Truly a must-see!
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