REEL Review – The Two Popes (2019)

The Two Popes (2019)

director: fernando meirelles | runtime: 125mins | biography, drama

Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio (Jonathan Pryce) is called to meet Pope Benedict (Anthony Hopkins) with the hopes of retiring from the Catholic Church. Over the course of a few days, the two men converse and clash-heads with their ideals and thoughts on the future of Catholicism.

The history of the Catholic Church may seem like a much more apt story than choosing a budding bromance between two of it’s head figures, but somehow watching two religious figures spar ideologically is surprisingly entertaining. Mostly thanks to it’s director Fernando Meirelles, who manages to find gusto in the most unexpected places and even use some of his well-documented editing savvy. The story is as simple as the synopsis suggests, two faces of the Catholic Church meet over a few days to discuss ones retirement, and it changes into a friendship.

The two men in question are Pope Benedict, who was elected Pope back in 2005, and his closest runner-up at the time Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina. The film often makes remarks as to the nationality of it’s people, it becomes a strong part of shaping their personalities throughout the film. But the most important thing that the film does, is how quickly it builds two individuals so well, especially considering the generalisation that most religious figures receive. Screenwriter Anthony McCarten has already made a name for himself in the biography department, with his previous work Bohemian Rhapsody (2018) and The Darkest Hour (2017) being huge successes, so it’s no surprise that he manages to bring some much needed structure to a very conversational story. The ideals of both men are so quickly realised, and the Cardinal is wonderfully built to be a man of the people while also never being framed by his religion but rather his Argentinian roots.

The film wouldn’t work without such good performances from Pryce and Hopkins, both who never diminish the others performance but actually elevate it. Hopkins plays a worn-down out of touch Pope, someone who seems to have lost his flare for the creative and also his own personality, whereas the polar opposite comes from Pryce, who’s so down-to-earth and honest you’ll be instantly enamored. It takes some talent to engage your audience with just a conversation, but with two veterans like Pryce and Hopkins there is something so watchable about the film, every opinion, laugh and argument is bolstered by their talent, and in doing so elevate the more stoic moments to be considerably entertaining.

The Two Popes does opt for flashbacks, and for the most part they seem necessary. Arguably the film’s biggest flaw is it’s incessant need to constantly flash back and forth, but for the most part they act as an eye-opener into the reality of the people we are watching. One particular flashback is about Bergoglio, and his controversial handling of the fellow Priests in the Argentinian “Dirty War”, and while it does give the Cardinal some much needed flaws, it does slow the pace down in a film that really is walking a fine line of mundane storytelling. But as I said it’s needed, and although Pryce and Hopkins are really the only thing you want to see these scenes avoid making Pryce’s Bergoglio a ‘saint’. It balances the dynamic of the two, and thankfully doesn’t completely glorify the current Pope.

Arguably there are bigger things to talk about when discussing the Catholic Church, and while they are touched upon throughout, the focus is simply on an unlikely bromance. The direction is elegant, the writing is paced wonderfully, and the performances by it’s two leads are so subtle in their character traits that it builds an unlikely chemistry between the two. By the end of the film you’ll be blessed by getting the opportunity to watch Pryce and Hopkins work together, and there is nothing more endearing than watching them bond over the World Cup Final. Less about the Catholicism and more about the friendship, The Two Popes is another Netflix standout at this time of year.


Rating: 4 out of 5.

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