Set during 2012 when the Catholic church is reeling with accusations of child abuse and cover-ups, Argentinian Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio (Jonathan Pryce) journeys to Rome to give his resignation to Pope Benedict (Anthony Hopkins). Expecting a fight with the orthodox Benedict who has pardoned many of those accused, Jorge instead discovers a different man behind the doors of the papacy…
…is an affecting and yet distancing experience.
Directed by ‘City of God‘s’ Fernando Meirelles, ‘The Two Popes’ is an affecting and yet distancing experience which attempts to you draw into its sensitive subject by way of human identification.
Completely submerged in his character from the outset (and rightly nominated for an Oscar), Jonathan Pryce is wholly believable as the Argentine liberal, Jorge Mario Bergoglio. Gone is any semblance of English reserve or affectation, replaced instead by a Latin melancholia wrapped inside a conflicted calling. Cast opposite him, Anthony Hopkins, is a subdued, Bavarian beast bellowing his last breaths of influence. Hunched of back, Hopkin’s injurious questions seek to entrap Jorge with dogmatic fealty and thereby drag him over to his compromised position. However, having started down this combative path, ‘The Two Popes’ tentatively loses its way.
In trying to humanise its characters, it makes the mistake of wholly focussing on the accuser and not the accused. Nowhere is this seen more clearly than in a controversial scene where Jorge hears Pope Benedict’s confession. Whereas Jorge’s sins are explored at length, Benedict’s more heinous ones are faded out in a single, contrived whisper.
Now with the severity of its gaze blunted, ‘The Two Popes’ enquiring tone falls further from grace. In attempting to understand and document a seismic shift in how the Vatican has changed, ‘The Two Popes’ settles on becoming a feel-good comedy to assuage the faithful.
As Pope Benedict repeatedly points out to Jorge that “God always grants you the right words”, ‘The Two Popes’ is a film that sadly scatters its fetching performances in an unwise and contrived bid to please everybody.