I'm not a religious person myself, but I do find movies about religion (whichever it may be) very fascinating, and the story of our two most recent popes and their relationship is something that really made me excited to see this film. I always go into a "based on a true story” or “inspired by true events" film with reservations on how accurate it truly is, but The Two Popes was so captivating, beautifully shot, well written, and perfectly acted that it didn't even matter to me if it wasn't 100 percent accurate.
The film has a very mellow and understated feel to its direction, which matches our very mellow and understated central characters. Most of the film is both Popes discussing life, religion, and the negatives of both, and when these two sit down and discuss, director Fernando Meirelles (City of God) lets these two veteran actors accomplish wonders. I love it when a director knows to take a seat and let terrific actors do their thing.
That's not to say Meirelles is phoning it in though, because he doesn't. One thing I especially loved is the way Meirelles portrays Vatican life and the way they elect a new Pope, which is the majority of the first act of the film. While most of the movie is easy going with its editing and pacing, the election scenes are setting a tone by including quick cuts and a fast pace to establish that the election is truly a big deal. It's the right amount of quick cuts too and really works well whenever the movie requires the tension to be upped.
The Two Popes ends up being about two really important things. Those two being the powerful bond that our central characters, Pope Benedict XVI (Hopkins) and Jorge Mario Bergoglio aka our current Pope Francis (Pryce), build throughout their talks, and a biopic about Bergoglio told through flashbacks throughout the film. The chemistry between both actors and the writing itself makes all of the conversational scenes incredibly gripping, emotional, and surprisingly humorous as well.
The only problem I have is with the backstory portions. I felt the movie did such a great job with the friendship of these two that the backstory came a little too late into the film, and for big chunks adapted a style of storytelling that I'm not too fond of, and that's telling and not showing. A lot of it is good, but the numerous narrations during the flashbacks telling us exactly how characters are feeling and where they are in life were unnecessary. Besides that, the friendship, and even the small glimpses that we get of life in the Vatican, were beautifully done.
ACTING | CHARACTERS | DIALOGUE:
This is an acting masterpiece of a film. Both Anthony Hopkins and especially Jonathan Pryce give masterful performances; dare I say their best performances either ever, or in a very, very long time. I don't know much about either Pope personally, but each actor effectively embodied another person where I never saw either actor and only saw the person. Big kudos to Pryce for being a Welsh actor portraying an Argentinian and for learning three different languages just for this role. It also helps that Pryce resembles Pope Francis, which is more than I can say for Hopkins who looks almost nothing like Benedict XVI. The supporting cast is very minimal with the focus on the story being on these two, but I found that Argentinian actor Juan Minujín, who plays a young Bergoglio, did a great job in his small role.
VISUAL EFFECTS | MAKEUP | DESIGN:
MUSIC | SCORE | SOUND DESIGN:
I was surprised to see the movie didn't take a more conventional route when it came to its score. I was expecting a lot of religious sounding gospel and hymns, but the movie doesn't want to beat you over the head with its beliefs, so they refrain from overusing them. What's there sounds beautiful and does the environment and lifestyle justice. I was just surprised to hear an instrumental, religious version of Dancing Queen from ABBA.
This is a beautiful looking film when it comes to its various locations that these two men converse in. Many shots of Rome city life, gorgeous paintings inside the Vatican, and lush gardens at beautiful vacation homes. It's a feast for the eyes when the film isn't focusing entirely on the two Popes. The limited use of makeup in the film to make each actor look a little more like the real counterparts is well done, and the even smaller uses of special effects are great as well.
While the film has been criticized for not being completely accurate, I found The Two Popes to be very absorbing and terrifically acted and written that it didn't really upset me too much. It's a wonderful little movie about friendship, failure, and learning to live with mistakes. Netflix has been knocking it out of the park lately with their originals, and this is another great one to add to their ever-expanding catalog.