Tuesday, January 20, 2009

1/15/09: Papillon (1973)

I've hopped back into the Dustin Hoffman time machine and set the dial to 1973. Published in 1969, the memoirs of Henri "Papillon" Charriere (now widely considered to be a novel more than an autobiography) serve as the basis of this film, featuring Steve McQueen as Papillon and Hoffman as his myopic sidekick, Dega.

The movie chronicles their long years in various prisons and penal colonies, their repeated attempts at escape, and their brutal punishments. The costumes, scenery and makeup effects are extremely impressive; a typically convincing touch are the various oral appliances worn by the leads to suggest deteriorating dental health. We never really learn very much about Papillon other than the fact that he was convicted on trumped-up charges and that he'll stop at nothing to win his freedom—everything else is either implied or left unsaid. (For a two-and-a-half-hour long movie, the backstory is surprisingly nonexistent.) The story frequently reminded me of the British TV series from five years earlier, Patrick McGoohan's The Prisoner, which described another fellow wrongly jailed and relentlessly hell-bent on escape from his own island prison. As Dega, Hoffman turns in another astonishing performance—yet inconceivably, not only did he not win an Oscar, he wasn't even nominated for Papillon! Rating: 4/5.

No comments: