Wednesday, December 11, 2019

The Two Popes - Review

Finding drama at the center of a conversation about the inner workings of the Papacy isn’t easy. It doesn’t get easier when you consider that the bulk of the film in centered on just two characters: Pope Benedict XVI and Jorge Bergoglio. The handles very much like a play, complete with dialogue heavy scenes, few locations, and even the way the narrative is structured. And it all ties back to the central question of it all: can there really be TWO Popes?

Behind the Vatican walls, Pope Benedict (Anthony Hopkins) and the future Pope Francis (Jonathan Pryce) must find common ground to forge a new path for the Catholic Church.

Look, who can really complain about getting to watch two phenomenal actors in Jonathan Pryce and Anthony Hopkins in various rooms talking for two hours? Both bring the appropriate demeanors to their characters, which inevitably leads them to bicker even more than they already were over various policies and ideologies. Hopkins gets the straightforward, literal, and generally unlikeable role, and his ability to be condescending and the holier than thou (no pun intended) attitude really sell the Pope well.

But Pryce gets more of a personality, more vision for change, and ultimately a more hopeful character. Pryce has a calming presence, from his soft eyes to his soothing voice, and that presence goes a long way to show how well-liked and friendly the future Pope is. What all this basically amounts to is a character that is so easy to root for, even when his errors and fallibility become apparent later in the film, and gives the viewer such satisfaction by the time the credits roll.
The film doesn’t reinvent the wheel. It’s a straightforward drama with great performances. The choice to shoot the film in a pseudo-mockumentary style is an interesting one that allows for a sort of fly on the wall feeling, like the audience shouldn’t necessarily be seeing all of these conversations happen. The look and design work, however, are exquisite. For those that haven’t figured it out, a film about the Pope needs the Vatican, but that becomes difficult when you consider filming there is impossible. Instead, the crew of The Two Popes masterfully recreated multiple rooms of the historic building, to a ridiculously detailed level. Even if the narrative structure and story give the film limitations, the look of it all makes it worth a watch on its own.

The Two Popes is an easy, laid back watch, an experience that’s compelling but not so much so that it demands your undivided attention to make sense. It very well could’ve been, the Catholic church certainly has no shortage of dramatics, but what screenwriter Anthony McCarten constructs is fairly simple in narrative, thus a simple watch as well. Two men. Two different perspectives. Arguing and debating the merits of their views versus the other, and occasionally sharing a slice of pizza and an orange Fanta in the Sistine Chapel.

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