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THE TWO POPES: ONE OF THIS YEAR’S FINEST

One of the most unpredictable and satisfying films of the year, The Two Popes represents a collaboration of great talents: writer Anthony McCarten (The Theory of Everything, Darkest Hour), director Fernando Mereilles (City of God, The Constant Gardener), and two of the finest actors on the planet, Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce.

The filmmakers disarm us with this sly piece of historical speculation about a meeting between Pope Benedict and Pope Francis in 2012, at an unprecedented moment in history when Benedict announced that he was stepping down, making way for a liberal successor. McCarten’s screenplay is witty and sharply observed. Benedict is under fire for financial improprieties at the Vatican and willful ignorance of the sex scandals that plague the Catholic Church. Cardinal Bergoglio of Argentina has had a crisis of faith and wishes to resign, which requires the approval of his Pope. They meet at Pope Benedict’s summer home outside of Rome and discover that they are polar opposites. Benedict seems to have no sense of humor and is unwilling to accept change or compromise, while Bergoglio is a naturally charming man who shuns protocol and any signs of special treatment. He is also an avid football (soccer) fan. These powerful religious leaders share no common ground, it appears, and McCarten finds great humor in exploring their contrasting personalities.

But that is only the first chapter of the story. A long flashback sequence deepens and darkens our experience as we learn Bergoglio’s backstory and some of the reasons for his current emotional state. The light touch that characterizes the first portion of The Two Popes gives way to a serious examination of political turmoil in Argentina and the way its Cardinal chose to deal with it. Admirers of Pope Francis who don’t know about his life before ascending to the papacy may be taken back by the starkness of this episode and how it affected the man who is so admired today.

Like Peter Morgan, who has imagined relationships and dialogue involving everyone from Queen Elizabeth to Richard Nixon in his plays, films, and television series (from The Queen to Frost/Nixon and The Crown) Anthony McCarten has written a completely persuasive script and placed it in the hands of a director and stars who bring it to vivid life.

The Two Popes is a rare film that appeals to both the mind and the heart. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at leonardmaltin.com. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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