Big Papillon

DATELINE: Renewed Classic

Rami & Charlie.

Perhaps every 50 years or so, a movie needs to be re-made.

This gives a new generation of actors a chance at grand roles, and an audience unfamiliar with the original to see a version that is in tune with the times that half-a-century causes.

Take Papillon, the Devil’s Island classic tale that starred Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman so many years ago. Those who remember will tell you how great they were.  Those who see Charlie Hunnam (Sons of Anarchy) and Rami Malek (Mr. Robot) in the recent version will not understand how these two could be surpassed.

Yes, this remake is brilliantly done: in ways that the other never touched:  such as the motif of bowels as hiding places. Money pellets are within the mess of diarrhea to be searched. This film is brutal in its sadism and disgusting conditions, perhaps even more appalling than the original.

Henry Charriere’s true story of a man battling the odds of prison condemnation is always a good yarn of hope and hopeless. Director Michael Noer manages to convey the power of a literary classic.

We particularly liked the sequence when the warden has a showing of 1933 King Kong while the repugnant, fat turnkey is in dalliance with a young whelp while Papillon plans his escape.

There is a chemistry between Malek and Hunnam that transcends the original pairing of actors who were stars for more distinctive, discrete audiences. These new young stars have rapport and remain in tune as their relationship blossoms. In a scene Malek plays a mime who performs for Hunnam in a Paris dream sequence.

Hunnam notes it is too soon for a “proposal” in one scene, but the fearless director makes his song of bonds between oddball men quite effective.


Unusual Suspects After Two Decades



The Usual Suspects, Guilty as Charged!

The mind plays tricks on us after twenty years. For example, we thought director Bryan Singer did Apt Pupil a few years before The Usual Suspects. In fact, his Stephen King adapted story came immediately after his seminal testimonial to Hollywood crime thrillers.

The Usual Suspects holds up nearly two decades after its appearance, and like so many superior movies, looks positively fresh and new. Forgotten by many for its intricate and convoluted plot, flashbacks, and narrative, its derivation owed the world of movies for its existence.

The title came from Casablanca, and dozens of film echoes of great noir movies come to mind and dance in and out like bad cameos. It takes the Joe Mankiewicz flashback technique and revives it to the utter consternation of direct narrative. Mr. Mankiewicz would have loved it.

From the opening lineup where the five principal characters read one line in styles that parallel acting school tryouts, you have the best character actors of the 1990s in pure unleashed mode.

Benicio Del Toro is doing his best Brando imitation, and Stephen Baldwin is doing his best Alec Baldwin imitation.

Kevin Spacey is the apparent brains of the outfit, or at least its Homer giving us the rosy-fingered dawn of criminal baptism.

If we were to suspect anything all these years later, it is the criminals have one thing in common: their cloaked and dagger gay liaisons to each other. Of course, that is a minority viewpoint.

The film won a bunch of Oscars and other awards, putting Kevin Spacey on the map of stars, though it is the essence of repertoire acting groups, like the old Warner Brothers epics of the 1940s. Not a role is minor, not a performance is a throwaway.

WARNING: Film aficionados may start hooting at a moment’s notice.