Papillon ★★★★½

A temptation resisted is a true measure of character.

The 1970 memoirs of Henri Charrière (aka: Papillon) has come under a lot of scrutiny over the years and it's commonly believed that most of the stories presented in the book are in fact about other prisoners rather then Charrière himself. While it brings into question if Papillon is based on fiction or fact, it doesn't diminish it as an incredibly compelling film.

Steve McQueen leaves his coolest guy on the planet movie star persona at the door while giving possibly the greatest performance of his career as Henri "Papillon" Charrière. The mentally and physically demanding role showcases McQueen as an actual actor with talent, for a man that once turned down a role from Steven Spielberg because he couldn't cry on cue, McQueen was too modest for his own good when it came to his acting abilities and had more talent then he realized.

Dustin Hoffman is great as Louis Dega of course, this was a point in his career where he couldn't give a bad performance if he wanted to and turned every role into a character piece. While the film is certainly about the mental and physical toll the prison has taken on Papillon, the heart of the film however is very much the unlikely friendship between him and Dega. What these two men do for each other is solely based on a friendship born within a prison that would probably not survive in the real world.

Franklin J. Schaffner having just come off making Planet of the Apes and Patton, was no stranger to epics. His direction here has a hand of confidence that the story needed with it's deliberate pacing showing us the prison life of Devil's Island. Fact or fiction doesn't really matter, the film itself is a storyteller's achievement and shows the "King of Cool" was more then just a movie star. Should also be noted that the biggest stunt of the film is performed by 43 year old Steve McQueen himself for no other reason then he wanted to do it. A true original.

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