Two fantastic actors take on two amazing men, and the results are nothing short of miraculous. Too bad the film doesn't have faith enough to stay focused in the present.
Pope Benedict XVI, formerly known as German-born Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger, served as Pope of the Catholic Church from 2005 until 2013. That year, he became the first pope to resign from the position in almost 600 years. The pope-to-be, Argentinian-born Jorge Mario Bergoglio - Pope Francis - was the first Jesuit pope, and the first born in the Americas or even from the Southern Hemisphere. In retiring from his post, it's fairly obvious that Pope Benedict didn't want to be pope, but it may come as a surprise that neither did Jorge Bergoglio.
These two popes, Benedict (Anthony Hopkins) and Francis (Jonathan Pryce) are the subject of Netflix's latest original film, "The Two Popes," and the film is the streaming service's latest drama to throw its hat - or papal tiara - into the awards-season ring. When Francis - then Cardinal Bergoglio - travels to the Vatican to give his resignation, of all things, his deep conversations with Pope Benedict reveal that these two men share much more in common than it would first appear.
After all, they couldn't be more different. Benedict, the ultra-conservative, also reigned over one of the ugliest periods for the Church in modern history, with the rampant sex abuse scandals throughout the world. The "football"-loving Francis is by all accounts more progressive, a man who wanted to return to the roots of the Catholic church being for the poor, and also to be revitalized for the modern era.
Instead of clashing, they instead form quite the friendship, a holy yin-and-yang situation. The movie basis itself in reality, but takes great leaps in terms of imagining what these men must have talked about behind closed doors. As the sitting pope wavered and knew that he needed to step down, he finds comfort in Bergoglio's steadfastness. Francis is reluctant to not only become pope but to even be a Cardinal, as he feels he'd be more productive and helpful on "the ground level" of the church. In each other, they help galvanize their beliefs and give each other hope for the future.
Both Pryce and Hopkins do outstanding work, in a film that might have worked better on the stage...many of the scenes are just these two men talking with one another with not too much cinematic flair. Where "The Two Popes" fails though when it tries to fill in the gaps with several flashback sequences that provide context for where both men had come from. But the two lead performances are so good, that every time the movie cuts away from them, it feels like a distraction. Just put us back in that room with the two popes talking.
The flashbacks feel forced and isolated, and I think the film works just fine without them...it would have also pulled the run-time closer to 90 minutes instead of over 2 hours. Even still, "The Two Popes" is worthy of your time, a movie about two men with different sets of beliefs, bonded by their love of God, who come to respect one another.
Genre: Biography, Comedy, Drama.
Run Time: 2 hours 5 minutes.
Starring: Jonathan Pryce, Anthony Hopkins, Juan Minujin, Sidney Cole.
Directed by Fernando Meirelles ("The Constant Gardner," "City of God").
"The Two Popes" is available on Netflix on December 13th, 2019.
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