The Two Popes

"Anchored by two outstanding performances from Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce, the film is a triumph of writing as well as unostentatious filmmaking. The first thing to note is that there is nothing preachy about this pic directed by Fernando Meirelles (City of God). These filmmakers have told the story of how the startling resignation of Pope Benedict XVI (Hopkins) in 2013 led to the appointment of the first pope from Latin America, Pope Francis (Pryce).

"The story begins in 2005, when the death of Pope John Paul II led to Benedict’s ascension. But the surprising second place competitor in the initial voting was Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio from Argentina. Several years later, after mounting scandals inside the Catholic Church and the Vatican, Bergoglio decided to resign his position as cardinal in Argentina. This much of the story is known, but this film then decides to speculate on a possible meeting between Benedict and Bergoglio, in which the pope refuses to accept the cardinal’s resignation but instead engages with him in a series of searching conversations. During these talks, the conservative Benedict hopes to imagine whether the far more progressive Bergoglio might be a worthy successor.

"The first triumph of the movie is that the sharply written dialogue between the two men plays completely convincingly. There is no way of knowing what might have been said by these two very different men, but from everything we know about their backgrounds, the exchange of ideas seems plausible.

"Of course, the success of the film depends even more profoundly on the performances of the two lead actors. Alternately acerbic, fierce, tender and fragile, Hopkins verifies his strength with one of the most vivid turns of his long career. Pryce goes head-to-head against Hopkins, and matches him in subtlety as well as charismatic force.

"Since the heart of the pic lies in the conversations between these two characters and acting titans, it is a tribute to Meirelles’ direction that the film never seems static. Much of it is told through some of the most eloquent close-ups seen onscreen since the chamber dramas of Ingmar Bergman. We never tire of watching the expressive faces of these two master performers.

"The film does venture outside the Vatican chambers for scenes at Benedict’s bucolic summer residence as well as in the slums of Buenos Aires. Meirelles also incorporates flashbacks to Francis’ youth, when he first decided to enter the priesthood and to the most controversial part of his career during the military dictatorship in Argentina in the 1970s.

"Message-mongering is not the primary purpose of the drama imagined by writer Anthony McCarten and Meirelles. Rather, they have constructed a searching exchange between two men of very different backgrounds and beliefs and have encouraged us to see the growing understanding between these antagonists as a model that might point the way forward in an increasingly divided world." - The Hollywood Reporter

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