In the picture

January 19, 2020

The Two Popes is fascinating despite not being rooted in reality; The Informer doesn’t make the most of its intriguing elements.

The Two Popes****

ing: Anthony Hopkins, Jonathan Pryce, Juan Minujin

Director: Fernando Meirelles

Tagline: Inspired by true events.

Before watching Fernando Meirelles’ The Two Popes, it would have been hard to imagine the leaders of the Catholic Church as compelling cinematic protagonists. Yet Meirelles has crafted a dramatic gem from this seemingly unlikely source, portraying two larger-than-life personalities through a human lens while gently reflecting on their struggle with opposing ideologies and search for common ground.

Written by Anthony McCarten as an adaptation of his own stage play, the movie hinges on the events surrounding the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI (Anthony Hopkins) and the subsequent succession of Pope Francis (Jonathan Pryce).

The focus primarily lies on Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio (Pryce), who wants to resign as the Archbishop of Buenos Aires, just as the Church is dealing with the Vatican leaks scandal. When he goes to personally deliver his resignation letter to the Pope (Hopkins), he is invited to the Pontiff’s summer residence. As the two get to know each other, they find themselves debating their different ideologies. One sees the need for change, the other sides with the importance of tradition.

The film effortlessly draws you in with its exploration of the very unusual position the men find themselves in, while humanizing what would otherwise seem like unrelatable individuals. Their simple interactions elicit warmth. Their imperfections emerge as Bergoglio grapples with his past and Benedict confesses his guilt.

The Two Popes is a wonderful showcase of great acting (both the leads are phenomenal), brilliant casting, effective writing, and terrific cinematography. It is witty, poignant, charming, heart-warming, and very hard not to get absorbed in.

But where the project stumbles, however, is in leading with the statement that it was “inspired by true events”, insinuating that what the viewers are about to watch is historically accurate. The Two Popes may have been inspired by real people and real moments of historical significance, but, as more well-informed commentators have been pointing out, it certainly isn’t based on actual encounters or even rooted very firmly in reality. It is, after all, built upon imagined conversations between the two men and not actual documented interactions.

To appreciate The Two Popes, you have to view it as a dramatisation trying to delve into deeper issues and presenting a larger debate than the characters at its core, and it is perhaps more enjoyable when you aren’t deeply invested in or connect to the subjects. Those knowledgeable about the topics are more likely to be frustrated with the movie’s handling of the people and issues the movie depicts, especially since the fictionalization isn’t entirely fair to the individuals involved.

Embrace it as historical fiction and watch it for the dexterity of filmmaking and the pure joy of witnessing two stellar performances, not for an accurate history lesson; Hollywood generally isn’t the best source for the latter anyway. You may not emerge with a better understanding of the actual popes, but you will certainly be rewarded with an absorbing, thought-provoking drama that easily ranks among the best offerings of last year.

The Informer**1/2

*ing: Joel Kinnaman, Rosamund Pike, Common, Ana de Armas, Clive Owen

Director: Andrea Di Stefano

Tagline: Choose your enemies wisely

The Roslund/Hellstrom novel Three Seconds makes its way to the big screen in the form of the film The Informer, a crime thriller that may not be the smartest entry in its genre but is sporadically entertaining nonetheless.

The protagonist is Pete Koslow (Joel Kinnaman), an ex-con who is working as an FBI informant, operating under the watch of his handler Wilcox (Rosamund Pike) and her boss Montgomery (Clive Owen). But when an undercover sting to take down a drug-peddling Polish gang goes very awry, Koslow discovers that his handlers now expect him to return to prison in order to infiltrate the mob.

With the lives of his wife (Ana de Armas) and daughter in jeopardy, Koslow must figure out how to get himself out of his dangerous predicament. His task, however, is made even harder when a cop (Common) starts looking into a murder that seemingly incriminates him as well as the betrayal of those who were meant to be helping him.

It’s a fairly intriguing plot with several interesting elements, but the storyline, unfortunately, gets more and more convoluted and implausible as the film goes along. Andrea Di Stefano does a more convincing job getting his protagonist stuck in a precarious web than he does getting him out of it. The characters – especially the gang and its boss, who come off as caricatures of bad guys – aren’t very well written. Plus, the actions and motivations of certain players aren’t always clear, and not all questions are adequately answered by the end.

The cast seems solid but their performances aren’t exactly memorable. Kinnaman is intense but perhaps not charismatic enough as the lead. Pike is serviceable if unexceptional, while Owen is stuck with an unconvincingly one-dimensional role.

There is some suspense along the way, but the story lacks the originality and ingenuity that could have made the film stand out and deliver a thrilling, gripping ride. As it is, while it may not be quite as riveting as it should be, The Informer is still watchable if you are in the mood for a mediocre crime thriller that will deliver some excitement while providing a lot of exercise for your suspension of disbelief skills.

Rating system: *Not on your life * ½ If you really must waste your time ** Hardly worth the bother ** ½ Okay for a slow afternoon only *** Good enough for a look see *** ½ Recommended viewing **** Don’t miss it **** ½ Almost perfect ***** Perfection

Review: The Two Popes is fascinating; The Informer is mediocre