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The Two Popes – Movie Review

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The Two Popes – Movie Review

Rating: A- (Great)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy Netflix

Despite being a religious figure, the pope can occasionally feel like a politician in the way he’s appointed and the power he holds. Thus, The Two Popes takes the approach of treating a meeting between the former Pope Benedict and the current Pope Francis as the clashing of different ideologies. Director Fernando Meirelles and screenwriter Anthony McCarten turn these discussions into riveting cinema, helped by the performances from Jonathan Pryce and Anthony Hopkins. Due to their ages and positions, these aren’t arguments based on physical strengths, but rather those of their minds and their devotion to their faith. The Two Popes is even surprisingly funny, which adds a certain warmth to the film.

Meirelles and McCarten are able to provide the needed context for what leads to a pope’s election and why they are held as major figures in the Catholic world. The early scenes of cardinals coming together to give their votes are done in a cinematic way and with plenty of respect for the process. It’s fascinating to see what goes on behind closed doors. These scenes are also needed, so we get to know and understand the titular religious figures before the story launches into their meetings several years later. When the two eventually start talking, Pryce and Hopkins bring all of their theatrical talents to the table.

Those scenes are entertaining, not only because of how good the actors are, but also because McCarten has written has some cracking dialogue for them. His screenplay is able to provide exposition on their personal ideologies, but without feeling like we’re being spoon fed information. These feel like natural conversations they are having and it’s further elevated by the film’s sense of humour. There are multiple laugh-out-loud moments, although it’s important to mention that none are at their expense. It’s more showing that underneath the big hats and behind the giant crosses around their necks, these are just two old men who also have their own favourite foods and entertainment they watch. One of the most delightful scenes in The Two Popes comes when they share a pizza lunch together.

The Two Popes is careful to not deify Benedict and Francis, though. Benedict’s flaws are frequently shown, as are the reasons why many don’t feel trusting of him. Francis is the more popular of the two, but the film nonetheless devotes a large amount of screentime to his time during Argentina’s Dirty War. Meirelles doesn’t shy away from the large amount of disappearances and highlights Francis’s difficult decisions he had to make during that period in his country’s history. These flashbacks allow Francis to become a multilayered character and not merely the one we’re supposed to root for. There isn’t necessarily a hero and a villain in The Two Popes, although the audience can choose who they like better.

Making a film where the majority of time is spent on two elderly men having a conversation is tricky, as it requires great acting, a compelling screenplay and solid pacing. Thankfully, The Two Popes succeeds at all of these goals. It’s a less flashy directorial effort from Fernando Meirelles, but that’s almost needed for this kind of story. Each scene flows beautifully and it’s also an opportunity to watch two excellent actors play off each other. The religious element adds a further intrigue, especially with two opposing figures from the same faith. As a non-Catholic viewer, The Two Popes might be even more compelling as it allows the viewer a glimpse into a world they’re otherwise unaccustomed to seeing.

Stefan Ellison

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