Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.5.
United Kingdom/Italy, 2019. Netflix. Screenplay by Anthony McCarten, based on his play. Cinematography by Cesar Charlone. Produced by Jonathan Eirich, Dan Lin, Tracey Seaward. Music by Bryce Dessner. Production Design by Mark Tildesley. Costume Design by Luca Canfora, Beatriz De Benedetto. Film Editing by Fernando Stutz. Academy Awards 2019. Golden Globe Awards 2019. Las Vegas Film Critics Awards 2019. Toronto International Film Festival 2019.
As witnessed in Nanni Moretti’s hilarious We Have A Pope, the death of the current head of the church of Rome often creates a crisis of succession, pulling together a gathering of cardinals from around the world who hope to high heaven that they are not the ones chosen for the seat of St. Paul. The death of Pope John Paul II in 2005 brings to the Vatican City, among others, Cardinal-Bishop of Ostia Joseph Ratzinger (Anthony Hopkins) and Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio (Jonathan Pryce), both of whom are in the mix for the gig. Ratzinger is selected and makes for a controversial choice, considered a backward step for the Catholics who were hoping to see the church move into the new millennium with all its helpful contraception and friendly homosexuals. Eight years after taking the job on, the now consecrated Pope Benedict XVI asks for a private meeting with Bergoglio, who hops a plane from Buenos Aires to the bright and beautiful Palace of Castel Gandolfo, the Pope’s summer residence. Bergoglio is hoping for a response to his request to resign, his involvement in the Vatican Leaks Scandal has convinced him that it is time to give up his position, but Ratzinger has other plans. At first drawing him into innocuous conversations about football and jazz (including scenes that let accomplished pianist Hopkins show off his skill), the pope eventually gets to his real mission for their meeting: he has no intention of letting Bergoglio resign, and plans to do so himself. This would make him the first man in this position to not leave his post in a coffin in approximately eight hundred years, as he insists that he is plagued by fatigue and doubt and that Bergoglio is the future of leadership in the Catholic Church. At times very smart, at other times a bit sluggish, this intelligent two-hander isn’t exactly the Vatican answer to The Crown but it marks a return to form for director Fernando Meirelles, who hasn’t had a critical hit since The Constant Gardener. It also marks an exciting return to prominence for Hopkins, who gives one of his most electrifying performances in years and brings dimensions to a man who has been reduced to caricature in the history books. The flashbacks to Bergoglio’s past and his regrets over his actions during Argentina’s Dirty War make for some very touching elements to the story, while the cinematography is gorgeous and the ending is dynamite.