Tue. Sep 17th, 2019

Toronto Review: Immersive, sharp and funny, ‘The Two Popes’ is nothing short of a miracle

Courtesy of TIFF

Fernando Meirelles delivers a jaw-dropping masterpiece of a film

Genius filmmaking is one which takes what could have been an ordinary story and turns it into something illuminating, touching, funny and completely unexpected, ushering audiences into far more depths than they could have thought even existed. Fernando Meirelles does exactly that in THE TWO POPES, a film that is stunning on every level.

Behind Vatican walls, the traditionalist Pope Benedict (Anthony Hopkins) reaches a point where he decides to renounce; only to pick a former rival: reformist future Pope Francis (Jonathan Pryce). Together, on one short trip, the two must realize they must common ground to forge a new path for the Catholic Church who is in deep turmoil not only due to resurfacing scandals that are making headlines but also because, just as it denounces hatred and discrimination that exist outside its walls, its own teachings are not devoid of the same flaws its priests claim to be against.

Set over the course of just a few days, with several lengthy flashbacks into Pope Francis’ young days, the film features a screenplay that is nothing short of astonishing. Dialogue-heavy and dense, it fleshes out its characters, refines its themes and delivers a hire-wire act of drama, comedy and genuine moments. Who thought scenes of dialogue between a traditionalist and a reformist in one of the world’s most conservative institutions could be as enthralling, hilarious and compelling to watch? Anthony McCarten outdoes himself with a script that should pick up awards and, more importantly, win over audiences particularly those skeptical of a film that deals with Catholicism, faith and a Pope who is dubbed as a Saint. Is there a story to tell that we haven’t already seen in glorifying articles and a relentless news cycle? McCarten distills any doubts with a piercing, sharp and miraculous screenplay that shatters every cliché and then some.

One of the film’s most deserving elements of praise is its out-of-this-world cinematography, the year’s best and surely an all-timer. César Charlone’s frames are astonishingly beautiful and carry the remarkable flavor of Latin American cinema, known for its bright and colorful shots and vivid visuals. Charlone films every scene with impeccable details, stunning beauty and astounding perspective, while film editor Fernando Stutz does a fantastic job of cutting back and forth between the two men as we see them today and Francis’ political and personal past. Mark Tildesley’s splendid production design immerses the film in further elegance and accuracy while never forgetting some small touches that makes the settings much more than a by-the-numbers replica of places we know. Every frame speaks of detail and beauty – but the film’s heart is in its two incredible performances.

As Pope Benedict, Anthony Hopkins delivers a career-best performance that will surely be remembered come awards season. It’s a rich performance full of layers and reminds us how Hopkins is a truly legendary talent in film. As Pope Francis, Pryce is superb; he captures the man before the priest, communicating his vulnerabilities, humor and personality in magnetic ways.

THE TWO POPES covers a turning point in the history of the Catholic Church, but is much more than that. It’s an astute study of leadership, power and responsibility and a deep-dive into the hard choices they bring along. At a time when leaders’ decisions are having severe ramifications on the world as we know it, the film succeeds in transcending its material to create something truly universal.

Verdict:  THE TWO POPES is one of the year’s most surprising films. See it on the big screen while you could and immerse yourself in a truly singular viewing experience featuring two actors at the top of their game, stunning technical credits, a brilliant screenplay and extraordinary directing.

Grade: A

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