Review: Papillon (1973)


I kept on thinking David Ortiz was in this movie, darn you Big Papi!

Screenplay By: Lorenzo Semple Jr. & Dalton Trumbo
Directed By: Franklin J. Schaffner

I get what Papillon is all about. I understand its theme about one man being accused of wasting his life and fighting back against the system that is trying to break him. I get that at the end when we learn that Steve McQueen has made it to freedom we are supposed to be happy. I also get the fact that Papillon isn’t that good of a movie, it is well made, but that doesn’t make it any good.

To get it out of the way, their are parts of Papillon that I did enjoy. The middle adventure section was fun to watch and the one time in the film when I was actually interested in what was happening on my screen. The art design and the realism of the location shooting was a nice touch. I can, and will, fault Papillon for plenty, but the way the film looks isn’t one of them.

Roger Ebert wrote that at the end of Papillon when we are told that Steve McQueen has reached freedom, he was happy. He wasn’t happy because McQueen was free, he was happy because the movie was over. I share that same sentiment, I was never happier watching Papillon than when it was over. There aren’t a lot of things I can list wrong with Papillon, wait, that’s not true, I could list plenty I just don’t feel like wasting my life doing that. The big things hold Papillon back enough as it is. Never at any moment before or after the jungle adventure did I care about what was happening. I wasn’t interested in the story or the characters, I don’t know what could have been done to make the story more interesting, but what I was given sure as heck didn’t fly. This leads to an even bigger problem in Papillon, all the dead space. Papillon is far too long, and all the moments that are slow and exist for reflection on the story don’t serve their function when there isn’t a story or group of characters worth reflection.

I hadn’t heard much about Papillon when I rented it, the only reason I rented it was because of 70’s month. I can safely tell you it was a rental gone bad, and one movie I would have been better off not seeing. Papillon isn’t a bad movie, but it isn’t a movie worth seeing, it is dreadfully droll and boring and finally reaches a conclusion that I could care less about. I was happy at the end, but I was happy because I could move on to a different, more fulfilling movie.




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