If there’s one moment in the 21st century that represents the drastic changing of philosophies and the conflict that brings, it has to be the transition between Pope Benedict and Pope Francis, the first time a pope stepped down in over 700 years. Pope Benedict represented an older, more traditional way of living, one that humanity believed was the proper way for centuries – built on respect and repressing unsightly emotions, which also meant old fashion values against gay marriage, abortion, the poor staying poor and the rich getting richer, and of course the sexually repressed church doing unspeakable things to innocent boys and girls. Pope Francis, on the other hand, represented the opposite of everything Benedict stands for – he lives with the people, realizes that people are changing as fast as the world is and that old fashion values don’t stand for much anymore when they get in the way of positive change.
Their conflict is a fight in all of us – old vs. new, the way the world has operated for centuries against a world more open and honest with itself about its problems. And it is this conflict that bolsters “The Two Popes” to being far more than any other film about the church or the Pope.
Of course it certainly helps that “The Two Popes” has two of the best performances of the year with the titular leads, Jonathan Pryce as Pope Francis and Anthony Hopkins as Pope Benedict as both of them fight each other over their values and themselves over their mistakes and regrets. Any scene with these two is mesmerizingly beautiful, like two Shakespearean masters with more experience than any actors in the world. From the bigger scenes where they confront each other over their beliefs that escalates with each accusation to the quieter moments of them eating alone or talking in a helicopter over Benedict’s gardener, these two never fail to impress.
However, beyond the relevance and the masterful performances, there really isn’t much to “The Two Popes.” The pacing is all over the place, especially in the middle of the film when it flashes back to Francis’ past, and most of the machinations of the church go unaddressed, going instead for Pope Benedict’s flaws and what he was blind to. Personal blame is the focus of both of them, Benedict blaming his distance and isolation for what happened to the church, while Francis regrets some of his choice during the Argentinian dictatorship, mostly leaving the problems that the church made out of it. The film addresses the problems, but fails to offer much in the way of a solution.
Still, “The Two Popes” isn’t without merit. The conflict is relevant to our divisive world and the lead performances some of the best of the year. It is a fine picture that gets its points across and delivers a solid emotional punch when it needs to.
Final Grade: B-