Monday, January 27, 2020

Movie Review: "The Two Popes" (2019)

Director: Fernando Meirelles
Year: 2019
Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 2 hours, 5 minutes

The conservative Cardinal Ratzinger and the much more liberal Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio have a discussion about what's best for the Catholic church and what role they will have to play in its future.

Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce star as Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis in Netflix's "The Two Popes" (2019).
Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce star as Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis in Netflix's "The Two Popes" (2019). (Image Source)
If it wasn't for awards season, Netflix's "The Two Popes" may have floated by under the radar and unnoticed. Now that both Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce have been nominated for best supporting actor and best actor respectively, and since writer Anthony McCarten picked up a nomination for best original screenplay, people are taking notice of this religious dramedy. Directed by Fernando Meirelles, who is best known for his Oscar-nominated films "City of God" and "The Constant Gardener," "The Two Popes" examines the inner workings of the Vatican. It also tells about the relationship between the hard-line conservative Cardinal Ratzinger (Hopkins), also known as Pope Benedict XVI, and the more liberal Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio (Pryce), who would go on to become Pope Francis. Both Cardinals sit down for a mostly fictionalized conversation about the future of the Catholic church, what's best for it in the long run, and how their views on said future drastically differ. The film also delves into the Bergoglio's past, including some of the controversial decisions he made after the Argentine Revolution during the military's dictatorship that followed.
In Netflix's "The Two Popes," Pope Benedict (Anthony Hopkins) plays the piano for Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio (Jonathan Pryce) during their private meeting
In Netflix's "The Two Popes," Pope Benedict (Anthony Hopkins) plays the piano for Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio (Jonathan Pryce) during their private meeting. (Image Source)
We have a hunch that not too many people outside of history buffs and faithful Catholics might be drawn to a movie about two popes starring two aged Welch actors where most the dialogue is in Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, German, and Latin. The vast majority of the film contains a series of intimate religious, philosophical, and moral discussions between these two popes. One of them laments the changing world while the other attempts to embrace it. One man believes the church should remain grounded in the past and keep the strict rules and guidelines of what it means to be righteous while the other believes the church must evolve with the times or lose out on current and potential followers. One man represents the gold-laden extravagance of his position at a place higher than and separate from the people, while the other takes the more christ-like approach of humility and equality, shrugging off traditional garb and private summer homes in favor of plainclothes and public transportation.

The story is quite engaging and has a surprising amount of light, situational humor that highlights the differences between the two popes, their views, and their outlooks. This is a testament to Anthony McCarten's sharp, poignant writing that waxes poetic about life and the state of the world, how people aren't necessarily losing their faith but are turning away from the church, etc. Interlaced with this principal conversation are flashbacks of a young Bergoglio and the mistakes of his past. These mistakes made him an unpopular figure to some people in Argentina, his home country, and the sins of his past made him believe he was unworthy of serving as Pope. We were not aware of these crucial moments in his life, so it was enlightening and compelling to learn about them for the first time in this context. McCarten briefly (and we do mean briefly) addresses the child sex scandal and cover-up that has plagued the Catholic church in recent decades. Some (we included) may argue that this subject is too glossed over and that Pope Benedict gets away without so much as a warning, considering he was aware of the atrocities that occurred. This is a very valid complaint. It's not difficult to understand why this horrific subject was not included in "The Two Popes," especially considering the various moments of levity in the screenplay, but its exclusion is worth noting, and we're sure this won't sit well with some viewers.

Both Jonathan Pryce and Anthony Hopkins give excellent performances, though we have a (slightly bitter) theory that they likely received Academy Award nominations because they were required to perform their parts in so many different languages. Remember when Emma Stone learned to sing for her role in "La La Land"? Well, Hopkins and Pryce had to speak perfect Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, German, and/or Latin, so there! Both performances are subtle and nuanced. They don't offer many showy Oscar-reel-worthy moments, but they are high-quality, effective performances nonetheless. Pryce and Hopkins don't give our personal favorite performances of the year, and we would have taken Taron Egerton and/or Eddie Murphy and Wesley Snipes instead, but they are still worthy. We swear we're not trying to convince ourselves that they are great...they really are great.

The one thing we hated about Netflix's "The Two Popes" is the camerawork. It's as if Armando Iannucci were directing an episode of "The Office," but way more pontifical. Not only is this style of shooting distracting, but it's also wholly unnecessary.
Movie still for Netflix's original film "The Two Popes" featuring Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio (Jonathan Pryce) holding a praying hand over Cardinal Ratzinger (Anthony Hopkins)
Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio (Jonathan Pryce) holding a praying hand over Cardinal Ratzinger (Anthony Hopkins) in the 2019 Netflix original film "The Two Popes." (Image Source)
We are not religious people, but Netflix's "The Two Popes" still captivated us and kept our attention throughout its runtime. If a film can get people invested in a subject they don't particularly care about, then it did its job. Two solid performances and a keen script don't hurt, either.

My Rating: 7/10
BigJ's Rating: 7/10
IMDB's Rating: 7.6/10
RT Rating: 89%
Do we recommend this movie: Sure, why not?

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1 comment:

  1. This was an interesting read, and you've sparked my interest in seeing the show.