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Review: ‘The Two Popes’ Captures Politics in the Catholic Church in Stunning Detail

Shocking as it may be, political unrest exists across every facet of life today. Beyond the obvious arena of government, organizations known for their consistency must face political realities. While Methodist and Baptist churches wrestle for how to proceed in their handling of various issues, the Catholic Church continues its own push for modernization. Shockingly, that push has come at the hands of two central figures, the former Pope Benedict XVI and the current Pope Francis. However, the story behind their relationship comes to stunning life with the help of screenwriter Anthony McCarten.

 Directed by Fernando Meirelles (City of God), The Two Popes follows the relationship between the two men to have held the office since 2005. The story begins after the death of Pope John Paul II and the election of Benedict (Anthony Hopkins) to the papacy. However, even as Benedict wins the election, an unknown Cardinal begins to rise within the church. A reluctant Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio (Jonathan Pryce) begins to coalesce support for a non-European leader of the Church. Years after Benedict’s election, scandal about sexual abuse in the Catholic Church becomes public knowledge. As Bergoglio contemplates retirement, the two men begin their discussion of faith and the future of the church.

Pryce disappears into the role, easily delivering his best work to date. The veteran British thespian transforms into the man who will become one of the most admired Popes of all-time. For Bergoglio, this assertion would bring shame to his name. Nothing in his body would allow such praise to be spoken. Pryce captures the very ethos of Bergoglio, bringing the love and care we associate with the man to the front of our conversation. In his subtly there lurks power and grace. You cannot question why Francis has become so beloved after watching this film, but the way in which Pryce layers pain and regret into the performance will leave you speechless. Few stories of men seeking redemption feel as powerful as this one and Pryce earns much of that credit.

Meanwhile, Hopkins knocks his own portrayal of a complicated figure out of the park. Hopkins brings his talent out in full force, a rarity for the actor known to let his charisma do the work for him. Yet his turn here reminds you of the chameleon-like transformers the thespian built his career upon. In every word and moment, he brings a different side of redemption to the table. There’s clear pain in his heart and mind, but to speak it threatens something much larger than himself. His own faults are many, but his quest should spark some level of empathy. The film never lets Benedict off the hook for his actions, but Hopkins’ performance will make you reconsider the level of disdain the former Pope created.

McCarten and Meirelles build something of a buddy comedy out of these discussions. With something as trivial as the future of the Catholic Church at stake, the men trade barbs and ideas about faith. They quip to each other about their lives and find pathos in their respective journies. The chemistry between the two actors allows the dialogue to soar. While Meirelles gets ample opportunities to show off his hand-cam aesthetics, this screenplay makes this film click into place.

The crafts team also brings their A-game. No set piece will be as impressive in 2019 as the recreation of the Sistine Chapel. The production design team fool you into believing we’re actually watching scenes shot in the Vatican. The immaculate details should be too complicated to recreate. Despite this, every step of the City feels authentic. Even trips back to a dictatorial Argentina feel timeless. The cinematography and production design helps transport you across the globe. The level of realism will truely shock you.

For all the jokes that got tossed at The Two Popes as a concept, the execution will shock you. A perfect film for the family to watch during the break, Pryce and Hopkins hone in some of the best work of their careers. The philosophical debates and questions of when to let go are relevant today. The methods by which they hold complex emotional discussions about political events sheds new light on how to communicate in a divided world. Few films in 2019 can handle the political moment like The Two Popes, yet remain perfectly entertaining every step of the way. Shockingly, The Two Popes earns its place as one of the most enjoyable films of the year.

GRADE: (½)

What did you think of The Two Popes? Let us know in the comments below!

Check out our other reviews from We Bought a Blog here! Check out AJ’s Letterboxd to keep up with what he’s watching

Loves movies, TV, and other Pop Culture happenings. Got his BA from Florida State University in English Literature and Sport Management. Got his MA from UCF in Mass Communication.

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