The Two Popes Movie Review
The Two Popes is most powerful when it’s just Jonathan Pryce and Anthony Hopkins—as Pope Francis and his predecessor Pope Benedict—alone, debating morality and theology. The movie, from director Fernando Meirelles, doesn’t have nearly enough of that, but it’s still an oft compelling clash of beliefs and an examination of the rare—once in a millennia—handoffs of the papacy.
The movie, written by Anthony McCarten, feels more like a stage play at times—and in fact, with some tightening, it could make a damn good one. The story lives up to its title, pitting two talented actors as two starkly different men (albeit with the same calling) in an entertaining, even somewhat comedic way. While it doesn’t always work, the dynamic nature of the two roles makes for a largely engrossing experience.
Meirelles, oddly, doesn’t flash any of the color or vibrancy you’d expect based on his most well-known films, City of God and The Constant Gardener. The papacy doesn’t lend itself to such style, but even still the production does have a bit of a made-for-TV feel, especially since he blends in real, grainy footage with the fictionalized narrative at work. Meirelles direction doesn’t hurt the movie, but it certainly doesn’t elevate it.
The Two Popes is less effective as a Francis biopic, though the movie does explore some of the man’s more fascinating and controversial dealings with an Argentinian dictatorship decades earlier. The subject matter would probably be better suited for its own, separate movie—included here, it comes off a bit half-cocked, especially since the filmmakers apparently couldn’t decide whether they wanted to explore Francis’ past or have the movie be a scripted battle of wits. Their decision to attempt to do both doesn’t entirely work; anytime Pryce (who is excellent here) and Hopkins aren’t on screen together, it’s a shame.
Far from perfect, The Two Popes is still one of the better movies of 2019. Jonathan Pryce is especially stellar—don’t be surprised if he receives an Oscar nomination—and the story, when it’s focused, is excellent.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.