In 1933, safecracker Henri Charrière (alias "Papillon" for the butterfly tattoo on his chest) from Paris was framed and convicted for murder and was sent to a notorious penal colony in French Guiana -- Devil's Island. There, the brawny Charriere offered to protect weak eccentric counterfeiter Louis Dega in exchange for financial support. Unfazed by the harsh conditions, hard labor and solitary confinement, Charriere and Dega still persevered in their daring plan to escape this prison which prided itself for being unescapable. There had been already been a movie version of Henri Charriere's 1969 memoirs "Papillon" back in 1973 directed by Franklin J. Schaffner (who also directed "Planet of the Apes" and "Patton" before this). Written by Dalton Trumbo ("Roman Holiday", "Exodus") and Lorenzo Semple, Jr. ("The Parallax View", "Three Days of the Condor"), the original "Papillon" film starred Hollywood A-listers Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman in the lead roles of Charriere and Dega.
In my opinion, Charlie Hunnam is a bland leading man. Even in good films like "Pacific Rim" (2013) and "The Lost City of Z" (2016), his performances were not really that memorable. He felt miscast in the lead role of King Arthur in last year's Guy Ritchie reboot of the legendary king. His portrayal of Henri Charriere in this film may actually be one of his best performances already, but again it will always be (fairly or not) compared with Steve McQueen's effortlessly macho portrayal, so so much for making a strong impression. Rami Malek gave a restrained sensitive performance here as Louis Dega. He did not pick up those autistic tics Dustin Hoffman gave his bespectacled Dega several years before he won the Oscar for playing the similiar autistic tics in "Rain Man." Malek had already won an Emmy award for his lead performance in the TV drama series "Mr. Robot" in 2016, but for many, Malek is still an unknown quantity. Things will change in a major way when we finally see him portray Freddie Mercury in "Bohemian Rhapsody" later on this year.
The bulk of the 20 minute difference in running time between the 1973 and 2018 version was the part about the escape. In the original, there was a more detailed depiction of the planning of their escape. The parts about that scam with the first boat, and how Henri talked to lepers to get a new one were all deleted in the remake. Later, we see Henri's idyllic life with a native tribe with topless island girls and a chief who also wanted a butterfly tattoo on his chest. He had to travel by bus later to hide out in a convent of nuns. In the remake, the islanders and the righteous nun were just condensed into one faster-paced sequence. In addition, the new version of "Papillon" gave us a little introduction to Charriere's life of crime prior to his incarceraton. This was merely mentioned in conversations in the original film. The depiction of Devil's Island at the final act of the film was also very different. In the original, the island looked a quiet settlement where Dega had a nice house where he can cook up a decent lunch. This made Dega's final decision more logical than in the remake, where the island only had terribly rundown buildings as shelter.
This 2018 remake of "Papillon" by Danish director Michael Noer joined the ever-growing list of unnecessary remakes of films already considered classics. The 70s had been a particular favorite decade of these needless reworkings, the likes of "The Poseidon Adventure", "The Taking of Pelham 123", "Carrie", "Halloween", " Murder on the Orient Express", "Death Wish" -- all not doing their original versions any favors. This new "Papillon" was not bad by any means, but I felt it just did not have to be redone anymore.