By Robin E. Simmons

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PAPILLON

Charlie Hunnam and Rami Malek star in Danish director Michael Noer’s update (?) or remake of the 1973 Steve McQueen-Dustin Hoffmann prison epic, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival.

If you’re planning on watching the reboot, a word of caution: try not to see the original first.

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Franklin Schaffner’s original was long, gritty and brutal. It plunged the audience into the horrors of a remote 1930’s French penal colony while leaving them with hope — not only of the possibility of escape, but of the ability to create meaningful bonds under the worst conditions.

Michael Noer’s version plays with these aforementioned concepts but fails to achieve the same effect.

Adapted from both the bestselling book by Henri Charriere and the 1973 screenplay by Dalton Trumbo and Lorenzo Semple Jr., it has most of the basic ingredients, but seems to only be going through the motions rather than exploring new ideas. I heard no authentic voice and saw no memorable images. Although the violence and gore were not muted, the final effect was a lesser, somewhat disappointing emotional and intellectual reward. This is one of those unnecessary remakes that’s hard to justify.

At best, Hunnam and Malek showcase their intense physical dedication, while generating a few lighthearted moments amidst all the hardship. They don’t really have the allure of McQueen and Hoffmann onscreen — who ever could?

I was a little put off by the movie poster’s blatant attempt to portray the two leads as resembling McQueen and Hoffman per their 1973 version, and the same with their respective make-up for the movie itself.  It’s as if the actors are not portraying historical characters but only other actors in a superior film of the same name. I don’t like having these thoughts when I’m trying to watch a movie and suspend disbelief. Know what I mean?

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robin@coachellavalleyweekly.com