NetFlix has muscled its way to the front and center of this year’s awards season as the financier behind prominent Best Picture contenders like The Irishman and Marriage Story. But there’s another NetFlix title certainly worth mentioning and, in my humble opinion, one that’s even a step above the aforementioned Oscar-titans which come from legendary filmmakers Martin Scorsese and Noah Baumbach. The Two Popes is a masterful and overlooked film from Fernando Meirelles, the man behind Oscar-recognized works like City of God and The Constant Gardener, and one whose awards season trajectory is still very cloudy. Nevertheless, Meirelles’ latest offering stands among 2019’s finest films and is currently available to stream on NetFlix.
It’s 2012 and Cardinal Bergoglio (Jonathan Pryce), a very liberal voice within the Catholic Church, requests permission to retire from the conservative-minded Pope Benedict (Anthony Hopkins). But as these two respected religious leaders clash in viewpoints, they still manage to forge a connection over their love of the church. Confessing their greatest regrets and darkest sins to one another, a sign of clarity will forever change the history of the Catholic Church.
At the center of The Two Two Popes is an elegantly-scripted story that’s placed in the careful hands of two magnificent performers. Jonathan Pryce and Anthony Hopkins should be absolute locks for Oscar nominations, however both failed to make the cut with the Screen Actors Guild. And the film depicts a clearly fictitious encounter between these two men, but presents their meeting in such an enjoyable and believable manner. The Two Popes flows like a stage-play, heavy in dialogue and extremely dependent on its actors. Pryce and Hopkins do more than rise to the occasion, they provide such resemblance and authenticity to their characters that it allows for a dramatic third act to completely suffocate you with genuine emotion. Pryce may give my favorite turn of the year, but that’s certainly no slight to Hopkins who marvels in his own right. Anthony McCarten’s brilliant screenplay is also deserving of some Oscar love as well. The story uses the philosophical contrasts of these two men as a beautiful juxtaposition to the shocking symmetry of their dark inner demons. The entire experience is soulfully dramatic but complemented wonderfully by a light and often comedic script. As someone who isn’t remotely in tune with the Catholic Church or religion in general, I can safely say that The Two Popes is in no way geared solely for a niche audience. It’s an exceptional character study with a religious back drop, but one that is relatable across all spectrums. And although the film can’t be viewed as a reliable historic source, these monumental moments in the Catholic Church are delivered exactly how we wish they would have happened. It’s not often you can sit down in the comfy confines of your own home and enjoy one of the year’s most impressive titles, but that’s exactly what Netflix is offering with their newly dropped Best Picture hopeful, The Two Popes.