Brazilian filmmaker Fernando Meirelles exploded onto the scene with the exceedingly high-energy 2002 drama City of God, and followed that up with the only-slightly-less-kinetic John Le Carre adaptation The Constant Gardener. So I was pretty curious to see how he’d handle The Two Popes, a fictional version of a 2012 meeting between Pope Benedict XVI and the man who would soon be Pope Francis—because, frankly, this sounded like it could be My Dinner With Andre with, well… popes.
Impressively, Meirelles has struck a fine balance. While the movie is far from being as electric as his previous films, it’s also very much not a chamber play, jumping around in time and being surprisingly humorous and even rather cute, all while still tackling touchy issues of faith and guilt.
The Two Popes mostly does take place in conversation between the two men, who disagree on nearly everything regarding the role and direction of the church, but who come to understand each other as people and are ultimately able to provide much-needed mutual forgiveness. The movie focuses far more on Francis, played by the always-exceptional Jonathan Pryce, exploring his deep humility and how it developed from his own dark days. Anthony Hopkins is Benedict, and, I mean, it’s Anthony Hopkins.
I’m strongly attracted to movies about real, true faith, because that necessarily involves conflict, struggle, and doubt, so much of which makes us human. And while a few chunks of dialogue in The Two Popes are a bit pedestrian, it takes these ideas seriously and is very conscious of how they’re presented. One of the most profound moments passes quickly and with little fanfare, echoing Francis’s modesty.
And still, more than a couple times I laughed out loud, and I was thoroughly charmed by the actors and the softness inside each man. The Two Popes is much more than what it appears, and—did you know how much Francis likes football? You’re about to find out.