[Screen It]


(2019) (Jonathan Pryce, Anthony Hopkins) (PG-13)

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Drama: Facing changes and challenges in the Catholic church, both a cardinal and the pope mull their futures.

It's 2005 and with Pope John Paul II having died, it's up to the papal conclave to elect the next pope, with the two leading candidates being Cardinal Ratzinger (ANTHONY HOPKINS) from Germany who believes only in tradition and Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio (JONATHAN PRYCE) from Argentina who wants progressive changes in the church. Ratzinger ends up winning and becomes Pope Benedict.

Seven years later, the church is embroiled in controversy after controversy, and Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio has decided it's time for him to retire. Coincidentally, Pope Benedict has called him to the Vatican to discuss something of importance, but the two end up clashing over their differing beliefs in the direction the church is and should be headed. All of which leads to the Pope refusing Bergoglio's resignation, thinking it would be yet another stain on the church.

As the two men continue to meet and learn they have some common ground, we also learn about Bergoglio's earlier years as a priest (JUAN MINUJIN) who found himself mired in his own controversy.

OUR TAKE: 7.5 out of 10

Name just about any faith-based movie and I'll bet that at least half of the time part or all its plot will revolve around questioning one's faith. After all, life throws a lot of curveballs, monkey wrenches and more at most people, and a lot of believers -- at one point or another in their existence -- will wonder why it's happening to them, especially if they've been a faithful follower of whatever religion they belong to.

But what happens when religious leaders have the same happen to them, especially when they've been selected to lead or even be the face of their particular religion? That's just one compelling part of the fantastic "The Two Popes," a drama inspired by the real-life event when Pope Benedict XVI decided to resign leading to the election of Jorge Mario Bergoglio to become Pope Francis, resulting in the rare occurrence of the Catholic Church having two concurrent popes.

Not being Catholic and not being overly well-versed in the true-life events depicted in the film, I can't say with any certainty how much in the way of artistic liberties have been taken with the truth. I can state with definite clarity, however, that this offering from director Fernando Meirelles (who co-helmed the utterly great "City of God" from 2002) and screenwriter Anthony McCarten (who specializes in biopics including "The Theory of Everything," "Darkest Hour," and "Bohemian Rhapsody") is one of the best of 2019.

Jonathan Pryce (as Cardinal Bergoglio) and Anthony Hopkins (as Cardinal Ratzinger and then Pope Francis) are absolutely terrific, not only in doing a more than reasonable job looking and physically moving like the real-life men, but also in bringing plenty of nuance to their characters. The chemistry -- at first adversarial and then warming up -- is great and McCarten's script gives them plenty of delicious dialogue with which to work.

The story briefly focuses on the wake of Pope John Paul II's death in 2005 upon which the papal conclave meets to elect the next leader of the Catholic Church. Ratzinger is a conservative traditionalist who wants nothing to change, while Bergoglio sees the writing on the wall and believes a more progressive church is in order.

Ratzinger wins and the story then moves forward to 2012 where the church is mired in controversy, with Pope Benedict publically ignoring that while Bergoglio has decided he's had enough and wants to retire. Coincidentally (or not), right after he's purchased a plane ticket to Rome to get approval for his retirement, the Pope summons his presence to discuss something important.

The two quickly come to philosophical blows once again, all of which gives more weight to the Pope's big news. He wants to retire and thinks Bergoglio would be a good candidate to lead the church in a new direction. But the Cardinal has his own controversy in the past and it's then that the filmmaker rewinds the story to examine what that's all about (where Juan Minujin plays a young adult version of the future pope depicting events of which I was not previously aware).

It's all so well done that I liked the film even more (watching it for a review) than when I first saw it late last year (for award voting purposes). While a loose summary of the story might make it sound stuffy, all involved easily keep it from being so as Meirelles employs lots of camera movement, quick edits and some creative use of songs one might not be expecting for a film of this ilk.

With that direction, a great script and even better performances from the leads, "The Two Popes" is a delight from start to finish and thus scores a rating of 7.5 out of 10.

Reviewed March 23, 2020 / Posted March 27, 2020

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