Skip Searching, and hit Escape on Papillon: Movie reviews by Rashid Irani
At the outset it must be acknowledged that the central conceit of this micro-budget thriller is quite audacious. It’s a missing-person narrative almost entirely from the vantage point of computer screens and other electronic devices.
After his teenage daughter (Michelle La) goes missing, her recently widowed dad (John Cho) is thrown into a panic. With the help of a policewoman (Debra Messing) assigned to the case, they attempt to unravel the mystery by delving into the teen’s social media space.
Director and co-writer Aneesh Chaganty, in his feature film debut, sends out a cautionary message on our increasing reliance on the ever-evolving digital realm, but sadly he does so in a way that is neither absorbing nor unsettling.
The script is littered with twists and McGuffins. Shallow, humourless and overloaded with computer-y jargon, Searching barely merits a click.
The book was a bestseller when it came out in 1969. The original film adaptation, released in 1973, was a blockbuster and remains among Hollywood’s finest escape dramas. This remake is just redundant.
In his masterful autobiographical work, Henri Charriere had taken the reader through the horrors of the French penal system in the early 1930s. The film starred Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman as the two prisoners determined to escape.
This new retelling directed by Danish filmmaker Michael Noer is faithful to the narrative arc, but where the book and first movie were suspenseful and engaging, this is unrelentingly gruesome.
Charlie Hunnam plays the petty criminal nicknamed Papillon (French for butterfly, after the tattoo on his chest). He’s been framed for the murder of a pimp and shipped to a seemingly inescapable island fortress where he befriends a vulnerable fellow convict (Rami Malek).
Their several escape attempts, including one on a small boat tossed around in a storm, are as harrowing as life in prison. But they keep going. With its savage beatings, stabbings and an overly bloody beheading, the film offers far more violence than suspense.
Unrelentingly grim throughout its 130-minute runtime, Papillon is an exhausting experience.