theriverjordan’s review published on Letterboxd:
In “Papillon,” existence itself becomes an act of rebellion upon the confines man has made for himself on earth.
Director Franklin J. Schaffner’s film about two men serving sentences on the French Guinea penal colony of “Devil’s Island,” was penned by Dalton Trumbo — a man who knew something of suffering penance for injustice.
“Papillon” is rife with a spirit of resilience.
Trumbo had come out on the other side of the Hollywood blacklist era, and star Steve McQueen - pretty boy that he was - still was sure to always insert a contract rider that sent classroom supplies back to California reform school where he grew up. These were men that were bent again and again by society — but refused to break for the gratification of the cruel.
“Papillon” - a two and a half hour epic that unfolds almost entirely in prison - could not function without that scrappy, almost spiteful, determinedness.
In what is perhaps McQueen’s greatest acting role, he is not merely the oppressed cool hand of so many parts past. The adversity affects him, clearly, and for that his character, and performance, are all the stronger.
“Papillon” does not set out to disprove the idea that nobody gets out of living alive. But as much as the act of merely existing leaves scar after scar — it also is the single most revolutionary act of rebellion that a man can undertake.