The Two Popes

Directed By Fernando Meirelles

Starring – Anthony Hopkins, Jonathan Pryce, Juan Minujin

The Plot – An intimate story of one of the most dramatic transitions of power in the last 2,000 years. Frustrated with the direction of the church, Cardinal Bergoglio (Pryce) requests permission to retire in 2012 from Pope Benedict (Hopkins). Instead, facing scandal and self-doubt, the introspective Pope Benedict summons his harshest critic and future successor to Rome to reveal a secret that would shake the foundations of the Catholic Church. Behind Vatican walls, a struggle commences between both tradition and progress, guilt and forgiveness, as these two very different men confront their pasts in order to find common ground and forge a future for a billion followers around the world. Inspired by true events.

Rated PG-13 for thematic content and some disturbing violent images.


– Unique presentation. This is my first experience with a Meirelles directed effort, but already I can tell that he understands what goes into crafting an immersive experience where the story will relish in a naturalistic approach to storytelling. In this regard, it’s the handheld design and sharp editing techniques that gives the film a documentary feel of authenticity, and transcends the story and A-list actors from a movie surrealism. This not only gives the events being played in real time a gripping feeling of vulnerability that we often don’t associate men of the cloth with, but it also replicates the simplistic approach of creativity that the two leads are sprinkled with, despite their immensity in career choice feeling anything but. It doesn’t abide by the conventional methods of visual storytelling, and instead grants audiences a claustrophobic sense of reality, where it feels very much like we can reach out and touch these thought to be untouchable figures within religious pageantry.

– Revealing/informative. If you’ve ever desired access to Catholic traditions but don’t possess the cloth necessary to be included within the many steps of electing a pope, then “The Two Popes” strongest value may be the honest approach to details that Fernando’s direction centers on very early. Not only does this film articulate the near pop-star status associated with the way followers embrace their leaders, but it also is brutally honest with making them feel more human than any form of media has attempted previously. Accessibility is key in a film like this, and while there’s no escaping the immensity of their worshipped statures, Fernando comprehends that their personable registries are what will draw audiences to them, illustrating them in a light of accessed opportunity that proves they are only human.

– Indulging dialogue. For my money, the film prospers most when it’s Hopkins and Pryce alone in a room, jabbing back and forth at one another in a conflict of ideals that does hint at the politics of sociology being played within these sacred halls. The pacing of the lines feel authentic in their deliveries, and the vocabulary and personality exuberated in such makes it feel anything but cinematic in its general outline. You would think that this would make their exchanges drown on like two relics arguing about better days behind them, but in reality the banter is refreshingly profound to the point when you’re actually hanging on to every word deposited because of its consistency of honesty. It helps move the film along in a way that overrides the sometimes strained pacing, and documents each of the titular characters with an air of intelligence and charm that makes it difficult to pick a side.

– Timely message. This approach isn’t heavy handed or even established within the narrative, but the respectably healthy discussion taking place between two polar opposite sides of ideals offers a stark contrast to the dead end of communication that our divided world currently harbors. The two popes disagree quite often in the film, and instead of coming to blows or harvesting resentment towards the other, the men understand and respect the other side. It’s a refreshing depiction of adults who don’t feel threatened or intimidated because the opposing side is progressive when they are liberal, and establishes profoundly transcending results that makes this must-watch cinema for a second chapter in a Civil War that continues to boil to simmering levels of confrontation.

– Perfect casting. By every measure of comparison, Hopkins and Pryce aren’t eliciting performances for a movie here, but rather transforming themselves towards making this feel like factual footage between their real life counterparts. In just visual likeness alone, Pryce could easily pass as a twin for Pope Francis, so much so that the internet buzzed about such when he was elected to the position. Hopkins as well offers a more than stirring similarity to Pope Benedict. But how are the performances of these gentlemen? Well, their commitment to the craft is strong enough to have each of them communicating through an array of languages and accents that move their performances miles ahead of the line towards Academy recognition. Hopkins’ meticulous delivery pays off brilliantly when his character exudes humor in personality that breaks the ice between the men smoothly, and Pryce’s character evolution that slowly gains trust for Hopkins allows him to open up to dramatic depth because of his character’s dark and tumultuous history. The movie puts them and their interaction at the forefront of the film, and succeeds it at being entertaining without any of the cheap gimmicks needed to sell the material.

– Stealing sound. I didn’t expect a movie that essentially centers around two popes talking to have an influencing sound mixing that establishes the creativity of artistic merit within the heat of the sequence it enhances. There are a couple of different examples of this, but none more captivatingly effective than that of the helicopter scene, where the two men can’t hear each other until they don headphones with an audio connection to one another. It takes something that would easily be overlooked in a lesser directed film, and cements realism within the environment that helped condense one of my least favorite cliches in cinema. There are obviously other ones within the film that I won’t get into, but enhances my respect for Fernando as a director, because he took stock in a film’s audio capacity that, quite frankly, didn’t need it to sell the material, but did so because, like everything else in the movie, authenticity is his bag, baby.

– Visual storytelling. To feed into the very conflict of ideals that sells the movie, the screenplay takes ample time in hammering home the contrast in respective worlds that better illustrates what takes shape about each of them. For Hopkins’ Benedict, we see a man who chooses to live in isolation because of views and vantage points towards issues that alienate the vast majority of followers he comes into contact with. It depicts a level of loneliness that not only conveys it easy to understand why he demands Bergoglio’s presence, but also why so much of his passion for the throne has lost its luster. For his opposition, Bergoglio invests his time and energy in people, giving back whenever the opportunity affords him to, and making it so clearly evident why his stances against equality ring top-of-the-line importance for him. These two men thematically and personally couldn’t be any different, and the movie’s show-not-tell approach in understanding these facts work convincingly more towards the other one possessing what the other one lacks, which better cements the understanding of their friendship, which grows surprisingly fast despite what was previously mentioned.


– Lack of kinetic storytelling. This is especially prominent in the script’s limitations with building momentum between scenes, that will have it facing difficulty finding its audience. I myself am an atheist, so to say that I wasn’t drawn into the film immediately would be an understatement. However, My love for the craft of filmmaking helped overcome some noticeable gaps in pacing and (Honestly) general interest to the plot. The problem is that someone who seeks a film to be continuously entertained with a narrative that keeps them gripped, may be sorely disappointed. It obviously caters to Catholics, but offers so little appealing to people outside of that intimate box of demographic that it often forgets to approach the film from their level, making a chore nearly from the film’s sluggish opening twenty minutes.

– Flashback woes. This is another film plagued with its overzealous approach to spending too much time in the past, rather than remaining confident to what made it appealing in the foreground. I don’t have a problem with visually telling Bogoglio’s jaded past with Catholicism. In fact, the delight of obvious color correction and diversifying aspect ratios offered easy to navigate detection within the storytelling that distinguished the two time periods seamlessly. My problem is rather with how long each delve takes in reaching its destination, which in turn drifts us further away from getting back to the film’s most riveting angle; the interaction between Hopkins and Pryce. For the first half of the film, we get one transition, but in the film’s second half we get as many as three, and none are ever concise to the point of playing into the pacing of the film, but rather abrupt speedbumps that, while they may play into the evolution of the character, transform the movie unnecessarily in a way that contradicts what was unique about a movie that only needs two people talking to sell it.

– One strange scene. Considering this is a movie that takes place within the Catholic church, it would be a missed opportunity if the film didn’t reflect on the elephant in the room of child molestation, and while this angle is approached, the caution it treads keeps it from ever being honest within itself. This leads to one of those interesting audio mixes that I previously mentioned, but its use here distorts the attention of the audience when awareness is needed the most. Hopkins shocking revelation during the third act is virtually muted so the bombshell can only be a moment between he and Pryce. How did I know what was being discussed? lip-reading and an online script for the film, which describes it with more focus than is depicted within the frame of the scene. I can’t even begin to assume why such a decision was made, especially during the most pivotal moment of the film that ties everything together in the bow of controversy it needs to keep itself from even touching the propaganda region, but it’s an unnecessary distraction that served as a vital silencing to those victims.

My Grade: 7/10 or B

One thought on “The Two Popes

  1. I just watched a trailer for this the other day, and it looks pretty intriguing. The negatives you mention though are big negatives to me, and lack of a cohesive story can really drag a film down for me, I still want to check it out before the Oscars.

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