Okay, truth be told, I wasn’t sure what to expect when attending a film called The Two Popes… well, aside from “Two Popes”, that is. Sometimes, you just aren’t a movie’s demographic, you know? To make matters worse, when did I blink and the late “oughts” became appropriate material for period pieces? Well, continue gentle reader! Sometimes a story comes out of the metaphorical woodwork and surprises the heck out of you. That being said, here’s what you need to know about Netflix’s newest film, The Two Popes.
The Two Popes follows the events surround the death of Pope John Paul II, the resulting resignation of Pope Benedict XVI (Anthony Hopkins) and the rise of the current Pope Francis (Jonathan Pryce). Fernando Meirelles directs the film from a script by Anthony McCarten.
In his direction, Meirelles elevates this movie from one which could feel like a boring and stodgy period piece, to a narrative which is powerful, timely and surprisingly light. This fact, above all, feels like an accomplishment as a large chunk of the dialogue is delivered in Latin. Fear not! It is not the stodgy and boring narrative you are undoubtably envisioning.
In fact, Meirelles and McCarten deserve massive praise for managing to take a deep and thoughtful examination of the papacy and make it accessible to the masses. In their hands, they not only develop these two complicated men into likable characters, but they build a savvy look at the Catholic Church during this period– which still feels timely. The world is quickly changing around these two characters. The more conservative Benedict is a symbol of how things once were; while, Francis represents the future. At its heart, this is the struggle facing– and that which is still very much facing– the Catholic Church during this period. Does the faith stay the course, or take a step into the future?
However, the film’s accessibility is a testament to the power of the brilliant acting performances. Pryce, in particular, is an absolute treasure as the likable, liberal reformer Pope Francis. He manages to find a sympathy and vulnerability to the character as he explores Francis’ past, mining questions of faith and redeem-ability as he struggles with his actions during an Argentinian political coup years before.
That being said, actor Juan Minujín absolutely shines as a young Francis in the film’s many and lengthy flashbacks. The part is a challenging one, encompassing a wide range of quiet emotions, but also the mere fact that he must be believable as a young Pryce. In fact, Munujín brings a sensitive and thoughtful performance to this unenviable task. He elevates what could be a thankless role in the hands of another actor, and carries much of the second act largely by himself.
Finally, Anthony Hopkins. What more can be said? The man continues to be an acting legend in his own time, and we don’t deserve him. As a character, Benedict doesn’t carry quite the same weight as Francis in the narrative; however, he’s equally magnetic. The two men establish a dynamic chemistry. Watching each scene play out feels like a master class in acting. Keep an eye out for these two as the year comes to an end.
All in all, Netflix continues to have a heck of an awards season. Following after Marriage Story and The Irishman, the streaming titan presents a film which establishes itself as something beyond what you might expect. When combining the stunning direction of Fernando Meirelles with the dynamic performances of two acting legends, The Two Popes is a vibrant, smart and warmly humorous examination of faith in our complicated, modern world.
The Two Popes is now playing in limited release around the country and drops December 20th on Netflix.