The Bottom Line:
A dignified display of Vatican succession that’s shy about controversial topics but will cultivate a newfound admiration for Pope Francis.
Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio (later known as Pope Francis) intends to resign from his position only to be summoned by Pope Benedict who despite their differences, refuses to let him do so.
A film that demonstrates a rich dichotomy between ideological differences can be considered as old as film itself. Yet, international director Fernando Meirelles (City of God, Blindness) delivers with his recent film The Two Popes in constructing the perfect paradox of a film that feels entirely timeless as well as crucially contemporary.
Contrary to the film’s name, this film is a tale comprised of three Popes, opening the film with a heavy emphasis on the death and legacy of Pope John Paul II. Despite Paul’s amiable deeds of service, the film acknowledges his critics ultimately presenting him as conservative relic too stubborn to adapt to a dynamic world. By comprehending the vacancy left by Paul II, does it contextualize the importance of another conservative traditionalist to the papacy in the form of Pope Benedict, and the even greater significance of Cardinal Bergoglio/Pope Francis’ rejection of certain philosophies of the Church.
The opening establishes the larger than life position of the pope unable to make a reservation because of how ludicrous the idea of the pope booking an appointment is to the receptionist. This is reinforced by the 1st act predominately focused on the Papal election. The frantic editing contrasts the depiction of most events and reveals the intricate governing bodies and global outreach comprising the Catholic Church. Along the way Cardinal Bergoglio is juxtaposed with the rigorous seldom of his world, by being portrayed as a simple man of simple interests. Writer Anthony McCarten (Darkest Hour, Theory of Everything, Bohemian Rhapsody) shows his hand in the ability to humanize noteworthy figures by introducing nuggets of personality that strengthen their purpose in the overarching narrative. Bergoglio watches soccer match, learns dancing, and enjoys a witty joke aligning him with the common man as much as his fellow man of God, Pope Benedict.
The film is defined by not only telling the story of these two individuals, but the story of their beliefs as well. Watching veteran actors transform into these two men, Pope Benedict (Anthony Hopkins) and Pope Francis (Jonathan Pryce) was transfixing. Both Hopkins and Pryce sell the illusion of these characters not just through elaborate wardrobe and makeup but with absolute conviction behind the ideologies and motivations of these two individuals. Both characters appear to be haunted and what appears to be an impasse is actually the bridge towards their resolutions. Where Cardinal Bergoglio is remorseful of being unable to do enough in his past, Pope benedict is weary of not being what is right for the future. Early on both these men share their outlook on the church, and their role in being the savior of the people and the protector of God’s intentions. While diametrically opposed, both men grow a kinship between one another conceived out of a pure admiration for the other’s sincerity.
While the topic is certainly mentioned, the screenplay appears shy to address the popes’ complicity with the multiple provocateurs within the Church. The stress of scandal hovers over Pope Benedict but never surmounts to playing an important factor on the character’s desire to reconcile with God. If anything, the brief moments of well poisoning, repeating declarations of “Nazis” diminishes real criticism. Treading murky water, The Two Popes leaves an unfortunate implication that efforts to constitute change are in order to curb public perception tarnished by hyperbolic outrage than propel reform.
Maybe not addressing the obvious was for the best, as the film instead introduces the flashback origins of Cardinal Bergoglio unearthing unrest in past Argentinian affairs. Meirelles and McCarten show no desire to march through the bogs and muckrake but instead encourage the viewers to travel a path they never knew they needed to explore.
Production company: Netflix
Cast: Anthony Hopkins, Jonathan Pryce, Juan Minujín,, Luis Gnecco
Director: Fernando Meirelles
Screenwriter: Anthony McCarten
Director of photography: César Charlone
Editor: Fernando Stutz
Costume designer: Luca Canfora, Beatriz De Benedetto
Rated PG-13, 125 minutes