Hunnam's 'Papillon' rehashes classic McQueen escape film


By Shirrel Rhoades

Thursday, August 30, 2018

If this biographical movie about French convict Henri Charrière seems familiar, it should. This is a remake of the classic 1973 “Papillon,” which starred Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman.

How do you top star power like that?

You don’t. You cast the new version with Charlie Hunnam and Rami Mallek and hope for the best.

To remind you, this is the story of a French safecracker who got sent to Devil’s Island, an inescapable penal colony off the coast of French Guiana. Determined to escape (“There’s no way off,” is the claim. “There’s always a way,” says our protagonist), Charrière forms an unlikely alliance with a meek counterfeiter named Louis Dega.

“Something tells me you can be quite savage,” says Dega. “Keep me alive. I’ll underwrite any escape you can arrange.”

While the action-packed story focuses on Charrière’s escape attempts, it’s really a story about a lasting friendship between the two men.

The film’s title is a French word meaning “butterfly.” That was Henri Charrière’s nickname. It's used as a metaphor for his quest for freedom.

Charlie Hunnam recognized th e challenge of redoing a film like “Papillon,” even if director Michael Noir was basing it on Henri Charrière’s autobiographical book rather than the original film. “We were putting ourselves up in a very precarious situation, remaking such a beloved film,” Hunnam says. “You can make the very compelling argument that this isn’t a remake, he was a real man, and this is an independent adaptation of the source material, but the world is just not going to view it that way. Once a film is made, it’s just the nature of our culture that the book is irrelevant, to a certain degree.”

So why did Charlie Hunnam take on such a challenge?

“The tricky thing for me was that I just really loved Michael Noer’s work, but I did initially turn it down, and another actor that I really respect took the role. It was one of the few times where I’ve really regretted turning something down. And then, it didn’t work out with that actor, and they came back to me and I ended up finding a path into it.”