The Two Popes

Written by Michael Clawson


Terrific performances by Jonathan Pryce and Anthony Hopkins are the sole saving grace of The Two Popes, a fairly tedious, over-edited, and poorly shot dramatization of conversations between Pope Benedict and then Cardinal Bergoglio (now Pope Francis) in 2012, shortly after the papacy had become embroiled in scandal and unbeknownst to the world, Benedict was seeking a successor.

“I don’t agree with anything you say!” blurts Benedict, capping off one of his first discussions with Bergoglio, during which Anthony McMarten’s screenplay inelegantly delineates their opposing beliefs on matters such as abortion, communion, and celibacy. As is true of the dialogue elsewhere, the contrast between Benedict’s conservatism and Bergoglio’s progressivism is too plainly spelled out to be engrossing. Flashbacks to the events in Bergoglio’s native Argentina that burdened him with long-lasting guilt and that he and Benedict go on to discuss aren’t any more compelling.

Steadicam and handheld, wide shots and close ups, canted angles and bird’s eye views – director Fernando Meirelles rapidly and erratically varies his technique, and the jumbled syntax badly disagrees with Benedict and Bergoglio’s thoughtful back and forth in palatial gardens and Vatican halls. The cinematography is egregiously flat; it deepened my appreciation of Jorg Widmer’s work in A Hidden Life, whose camera seemed to worship the ornate detail of the churches it floated through. 

The tone of the film is casual and often incompatible with the weight of the material, such as when Pope Francis speaks about the migrant crisis and a clip of a migrant boat walloped by an giant ocean wave clashes with the enthusiastic vibe of the soundtrack. Details such as Pope Benedict liking ABBA, wearing a FitBit, and regularly watching some TV show about a German Shepherd are included as light comedy, but the humor isn’t all that inspired, and rather annoyingly seems to be saying, “Look, popes are people just like you and me!”

But to return to that one positive, Hopkins and Pryce both effectively convey their character’s convictions and doubts. I just wish they were in a better movie.

The Two Popes Trailer

The Two Popes is streaming on Netflix

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