Oscar-nominated film ‘The Two Popes’ offers rich conversation

When they first meet, the two men look at each other with suspicion with each wondering what agenda the other may pursue. As they take their cautious first steps to get to know each other, they invite us into a fascinating world of egos that define their promises to serve their God.

The rich conversations between these two men in “The Two Popes” — a recent Oscar nominee available on Netflix — celebrates the art of dialogue as a dramatic device on screen. Occasionally in this film, the men may walk in or out of a room. And, now and then, they may show up in a specific location where the elite in religion may meet. But the camera usually focuses on what the two men discuss, how they may disagree, how they address conflict, how they search for answers to questions they raise. And, as they talk, we get to hear a rich exchange between two ambitious men who lead millions. The result is one of the most enriching films of 2019 that well deserved its attention at Oscar time.

Film Nutritional Value: The Two Popes

Content: High. Oscar-nominated writer Anthony McCarten delivers a sharp look at the politics, disappointments and ambitions that can fill religious corridors.

Entertainment: High. Thanks to McCarten's precise writing, and virtuoso performances from Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce, the film offers an entertaining series of conversations.

Message: High. As the film entertains, it also makes us think about the challenges anyone can face when careers are threatened by others.

Relevance: High. Any opportunity to think at the movies and discover something to talk about - as a family - is welcome.

Opportunity for Dialogue: High. There's plenty to talk with your children about the people who lead the religions we cherish.

When we first meet Pope Benedict XVI — played by movie legend Anthony Hopkins — he confidently grasps the position he has long envisioned. To him, becoming Pope is an arrival forever imagined, a capstone to an endless journey of religious commitment. But his achievement, somehow, becomes diluted by the affection among other pontiffs for a possible rival — Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, played by theater legend Jonathan Pryce — who effortlessly engages others with a natural ability to communicate. As the new Pope gets to know his new role, he can’t help but wonder, “what enables this other man to make it look so easy to connect?”

How each man reacts to this potential conflict gives the film a rich foundation and its actors a delicious opportunity to demonstrate how to bring dialogue to life. In a film where little actually happens on screen, Hopkins and Pryce use their years of acting experience to humanize the portrayals while captivating with presence. Without letting the abundance of conversation slow the film, the actors savor the chance to play with such dialogue. They perfectly play off each other within the story they tell. And, because of their rich performances, each Oscar nominated, we get to know these men — their hopes and disappointments — as if we had the chance to chat with them. Which is how comfortable the movie can feel.

As the film restores a belief in the power of dialogue in movies, it reconfirms the impact of Netflix in today’s business of cinema. Chances are this film may never have been made had it depended on finding audiences at the multiplex. That can require explosions and comic heroes. Instead, this film is just right for an evening at home where the chance to really listen is less likely to be interrupted.

As the film progresses we become so comfortable with its approach that we simply want the conversion to continue. “The Two Popes” may shed some light on the role of egos in religion. And it certainly makes us appreciate the importance of dialogue in movies.

“The Two Popes” is rated PG-13 for “thematic content and some disturbing violent images.” The film runs 2 hours, 5 minutes.