• by Wes Singleton

The Two Popes - B+

Rated PG-13, 126 minute

The fascinating, beautifully acted and affecting drama "The Two Popes" gives a behind-the-scenes look at the two men behind the transfer of power of the papacy within the Vatican in Rome, one of the most important, well-known entities in the world. Leisurely but thought-provoking, it's a film you must stay with until its satisfying conclusion.

Behind the Vatican walls, Pope Benedict (Oscar-winner Anthony Hopkins) and the future Pope Francis (Jonathan Pryce) have nearly opposite styles of personality and leadership, but must find common ground to forge a new path for the Catholic Church.

The captivating "The Two Popes" is directed by Oscar-nominee Fernando Meirelles ("City of God," "The Constant Gardner") and written by Anthony McCarten, who penned last year's hit Oscar-winning biography "Bohemian Rhapsody." It's an engrossing character study of contrast of styles, with the more traditional Benedict to the more gregarious, progressive style of Pope Francis.

In "Two Popes," we are treated to a behind-the-scenes look at the papacy, and learn that the German-born Pope Benedict enjoys Orange Fanta, playing the piano and watching German crime shows involving a German Shepherd, some fun touches that provide a bit of levity to their serious surroundings. Pope Benedict, played by the always stellar Hopkins in the more flashier role, is experiencing problems and turnover, and soon realizes it's time for new leadership, realizing that the Catholic Church must be led into a new era by the progressive, Argentinian Francis (or Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio), the quieter role that subtly and terrificly played by British veteran Pryce in a career-best role.

"The Two Popes" moves along a little too slowly in its initial chapters, and its focus in its last act is Pope Francis' story, which is given slightly too much screen time here in flashback. The film works best a character study of contrasting styles and leadership, and it's satisfying to see how the film allows them to work together. How much of the dialogue and scenes are authentic is another story, but Hopkins and Pryce, both in Oscar-worthy turns, make it worthwhile.

Whether you're religious or not, "The Two Popes" is an absorbing look at faith, power, leadership and personality that's a must-see for two stellar, exquisite performances sure to be seen again this awards season. In limited release, it will be streaming on Netflix in December.


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