Quick Hit: An excellent example of how veteran performers can elevate anything to watchability.
Let me preface this – I know religions pretty well, but as a practicing Protestant, I can never feel the same level of knowledge of someone that lives and breathes as part of the Catholic faith. However, I followed the changes throughout the changes from Pope Benedict to Pope Francis. I knew that Pope Benedict was the first pope in almost 600 years to retire instead of just die in the position. And I knew that the selection of Pope Francis was a bit of a radical, progressive change for the Catholic Church as well. Netflix’s The Two Popes, written by Anthony McCarten (The Theory of Everything, Bohemian Rhapsody, Darkest Hour) and directed by Fernando Meirelles, fleshes out this story and essentially gives us some fictional background to the transition.
The film starts with the selection of Cardinal Ratzinger (Anthony Hopkins) as the newest pope following Pope John Paul’s death. This is despite the fact that Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio (Jonathan Pryce) also received votes to be the selected pope. Some of these early scenes are shot intermingled with historical footage from the selection, and it took me a bit to really settle into the film. The momentum really starts when Bergoglio is summoned to Vatican City to discuss his possible retirement with Pope Benedict that the movie really starts to churn.
That’s because the very best parts of this film are the conversations between the two men. McCarten has a bit of a wit about him, and that’s handled terrifically by these veteran actors. Every conversation is an expert account in give and take, compromise and attack, and all while portraying these men as inherently different. These spiritual conversations take place against a variety of backgrounds within the Holy City – including the Sistine Chapel, beautifully recreated digitally here. But it’s not just arguments of different theologies on how the church should act. Pryce truly becomes Pope Francis, in that he perfectly captures the idiosyncrasies that have made him so different from previous Holy Fathers. From his love of football to his decision to practice Tango once a week, he manages to make you see him as the person he his – a loving man who is affable and outgoing with nearly all who surround him – and make you forget his position.
That’s not to say that Hopkins is upstaged. He manages to have some of the most terrifically funny moments as Benedict – one joke delivered drolly “It doesn’t have to be funny, it’s a German joke”. He matches this with conversations of classical music, which allow Hopkins to show off his skill on the piano (something he loves to show on Twitter as well). He manages to be both intimidating at moments – an early scene recounts him stating how well he knows his competitors and listing different things he knows about Bergoglio - as well as extremely vulnerable, such as when he proclaims emphatically that he can’t feel God as the pope, or proclaims his loneliness in the position.
This is all set within a framework of conversation, and it’s upsetting whenever these two veteran actors are moved away in search of a flashback. These are used to flesh out Bergoglio’s backstory, but you get nothing similar for Ratzinger, which is disappointing. It would have led to a balancing effect to the story, which instead ends up sanctifying Pope Francis a bit more than is maybe necessary. But all in all, the movie is entertaining for what it is – two veteran actors showing us all how it’s done. They both greatly deserve their nominations. I’m giving the film a “B-“.
For more on this film, check out IMDB.
"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"