Starring Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce, The Two Popes is dialogue personified
When you put the names Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce together in one poster, you’re bound to get some attention—and that’s exactly how The Two Popes first got me. Then, of course, the other thoughts came flooding after watching the trailer: Are they really doing this? How is the Catholic world going to react? How is my country going to react?
I could already see the petitions demanding the movie be taken down from Netflix should it have been too forward or too accusatory. The pretense was set: Pope Benedict XVI and would-be Pope Francis meet within the walls of the Vatican to discuss their different views on the Catholic Church and the direction in which it should be going.
With the issues that surrounded Pope Benedict’s papacy and how quickly things changed once Pope Francis was entrusted the seat of St. Peter, I still think it was a fair concern. But as it turns out, The Two Popes is the perfect conversation to have.
I will glaze over the fact that Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce were amazing as Pope Benedict and Pope Francis, respectively—their talents need no defense and no one needs further convincing. These men have mastered the art of subtle acting and the film’s close-ups took full advantage of this. Their banter easily bounces off the screen, their delivery and timing are close to perfect and I have nothing else to say. It was an experience watching them share the screen.
The meat of The Two Popes, as mentioned earlier, is the conversation that takes place between these men. We see the (arguably) traditional Benedict try to wrap his head around the ideas of Francis (then simply Cardinal Bergoglio). They go back and forth as the latter tries to hand in his resignation and the former refuses, over and over and over again.
There is tradition and absolute power and there is flexibility and empathy. Together, they touch on the movement of the Church, where it was and what it did wrong and everything it should strive to correct. They rarely agree but there is a respect between them and it’s a respect we all need to learn from.
The script of The Two Popes is spectacular, as is the cinematography and the direction. You would think that every shot has been taken and that every angle has been shot from, but this film has moments that will pleasantly surprise you. You can credit it to the stark difference in the costumes, in the greenery they walk through and the sheer grandiosity of the Vatican, but there is an art in shooting with a camera and this art is clear here.
In case the thought of two hours’ worth of conversation between two old and religious men scares you, maybe a little intrigue will keep you glued. The movie is not only inspired by the friendship of Benedict and Francis, it also touches on their pasts and the proves that no one that walks the earth is a saint. Benedict’s papacy had its scandals, and Francis’ past isn’t without its blemishes as well. It’s refreshing, albeit in a slightly scary way.
That was a lot of praise for The Two Popes, but it isn’t without its faults, too. A lot of the attention is given to Francis and how he first handled his religious authority in Argentina and this means that less attention is given to Benedict. There is no real discussion about the controversies that surrounded him, not the claims of sexual abuse or corruption—understandable, but hardly statement-making.
Nevertheless, The Two Popes is a must-watch. It’s a film that deserves the airtime.
The Two Popes will premiere on Netflix on December 20. But if you want to catch it sooner—which you should—there’s a showing at Trinoma on November 16th.
Art Alexandra Lara