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The Two Popes
★★☆☆☆
First run Theater cinema

The Two Popes stars a pair of British lions of the screen, Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce, who play, respectively, the German Cardinal Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger, who became Pope Benedict XVI, and the Argentinean Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who became Pope Francis. This quasi-historical picture is structured around a secret meeting between the two men that takes place at a time when Pope Benedict, embroiled in scandal and self-doubt, summons one of his harshest critics, Bergoglio, to spend a couple of days with him. Writer Anthony McCarten (The Theory of Everything Darkest HourBohemian Rhapsody) imagines what the two men might discuss during a time when they’re sequestered away together.

It’s kind of fun to see the two pontiffs of opposing philosophies sparring with each other at this critical juncture in the history of the Catholic Church, just as it’s wonderful to see these terrific, well-matched actors on screen together. But the screenplay does not dig deeply into the profound ideological differences between the two religious leaders so much as it plays on their differing personalities. McCarten clearly cares about language but doesn’t use it to craft dialogue that transcends the hollow contrivances, insipid metaphors, and implausible nature of the proceedings. And the two fine performances are undermined by the heavy-handed shooting and editing style of director Fernando Meirelles (City of God, The Constant Gardener, 360).

The movie plays as if the filmmakers lack confidence in the strength of their script and the power of their cast. The camera constantly darts around, pulling back and jumping forward, and getting up in the faces of the actors. César Charlone's cinematography looks at times like it was shot by a kid with a consumer-grade camcorder and at times like a postcard photographer taking carefully staged stills of men in grand settings. There are jump-cuts within shots that are meant to heighten the drama but only draw attention to its artificiality. Flashbacks to Bergoglio as a younger man act as nothing more than historical info dumps that distract us from the main storyline while adding nothing to it. The resulting film possesses all the depth and artistry of a speculative Wikipedia entry. It only humanizes these two fascinating individuals in the sense that it turns them into easily understandable sit-com clichés.

Twitter Capsule:
McCarten's imagined conversation between the ideologically opposed pontiffs has all the depth and artistry of a speculative Wikipedia entry, and Meirelles's heavy-handed direction undercuts the delight of seeing Hopkins and Pryce embody these men on screen.

Directed by Fernando Meirelles
Produced by Tracey Seaward, Jonathan Eirich, and Dan Lin

Based on the play The Pope by Anthony McCarten

With: Jonathan Pryce, Anthony Hopkins, and Juan Minujín

Cinematography: César Charlone
Editing: Fernando Stutz
Music: Bryce Dessner

Runtime: 125 min
Release Date: 20 December 2019
Color