Cast: Jonathan Pryce, Anthony Hopkins, Luis Gnecco, Sidney Cole
Director: Fernando Meirelles
I wasn’t exactly sure how a movie about the schism in the Catholic Church and transition of power between Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis, but when you have the director of City of God and a cast as strong as this one, there’s really no way it could go wrong. What might be automatically perceived as a movie glorifying a couple of controversial figures, the strengths of this film lie are with how powerful and complex these characters are. Led by two phenomenal performances, The Two Popes takes a difficult period of time for the Church and breaks it down to its most human level.
The film follows Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio (Pryce), a Jesuit Archbishop of Buenos Aires and a Catholic who believes that the Church’s hardline approach to social issues is turning people away from the religion. While Pope Benedict XVI (Hopkins) maintains that their stance on social issues is what keeps the religion what it is. As personal and widespread problems plague the Catholic Church, Benedict must decide if he can keep the Church moving in this direction or if he should step down and make room for someone more personable to bring people into their religion. When you have a story centered around two specific characters, their chemistry must be immaculate for this movie to work at an elite level. Fortunately, Pryce and Hopkins match their energy step-for-step and create an atmosphere where we can identify exactly what the movie is trying to represent. With Hopkins playing a character who only knows religion and Pryce playing a man who was much more outside perspective, the two clash over their ideologies even though they both want the same thing. Of the two, Hopkins may have the stronger performance just because of his ability to be a stern, cold conservative compared to the changing world around him. Seeing him grow through a character progression unlike many that we’ve seen this year is incredibly helpful for the progress of the movie and even though he’s in more of a supporting role, Hopkins really helps make this happen. The main reason why this movie works is because the story doesn’t portray either man as perfect. Even though they show Jorge with more liberal leanings, they also show his failure to act when the military was in charge of Argentina and kidnapping anyone who didn’t agree with their policies. When a movie takes a character that is perceived to be the voice of morality and proves that his negative experiences helped create this morality, it shows a level of pain, cowardice, and weakness that is helpful in showing us that it’s ok to have weaknesses and fall short sometimes. Especially when you’re going to be the leader of a large religion, you would want someone who understands personal failures and the inability to speak up in a time of need and can teach that two his followers. The Two Popes spends 125 minutes exploring a side of the Church that very few see and that we’re better off for watching.
Overall, The Two Popes is once again another strong showing for Netflix especially during awards season. Pryce and Hopkins are known for their history of enhancing movies from their performances and they certainly do that here. From a top-down perspective, The Two Popes is just a movie that works on every level and shows a level of talent that is rarely seen elsewhere. I hope Netflix’s slate is as strong next year as it is this year, because between The Two Popes and a few of their other movies, this is the best year they’ve ever had.
Overall Score: 9/10