Tuesday, December 24, 2019

The Two Popes

Now stop me if you've heard this one, two Popes walk into the Vatican... Director Fernando Meirelles and screenwriter Anthony McCarten offer this amusing tale of the relationship that develops between two men with opposing views of Catholicism in the world. It just so happens that both of those men would become Pope. Opening with Pope Benedict XVI's (Anthony Hopkins) election over a reluctant Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio (Jonathan Pryce), the film moves forward seven years during a tumultous time for the Catholic Church where Benedict will look at his formal rival as the best hope for the church.

With the simple set-up, McCarten sets the stage and allows Hopkins and Pryce to play off of each other offering insights into both men struggling to find common ground. Pryce gets the better deal with the more layered Jorge who, thanks to Benedict's prodding, would go on to become Pope Francis. Hopkins gets stuck with the more straightforward Benedict, but the set-up offers him challenges in attempting to convince a man whose views of the church he disagrees with to take a job he doesn't desire.

The Two Popes is a smart, quiet, character-driven tale that plays to the strengths of its two leading men. While the film is based on true events, McCarten dramatizes those events using both men's stated positions to define the sides of a conversation within the Vatican that never actually occurred in person (but doesn't lessen the impact of the film or the performances by its two stars). The result is an unexpectedly funny and sweet film about religion that isn't presented from a view of converting viewers or attacking the religion itself. Instead it simply offers two opposing views on several important subjects and, given the constraints of time, forces the men to come to an understanding of each other. If only the world were a little more like that. The Two Popes is currently available on Netflix.

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