The Two Popes (Netflix)
This engaging drama, from director Fernando Meirelles and screenwriter Anthony McCarten, imagines the papacy of the Roman Catholic Church as never before. The film opens with a conclave following the death of Pope John Paul II in 2005. Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio (Jonathan Pryce) receives some votes, which makes Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (Anthony Hopkins) nervous. It becomes obvious that he does not like Bergoglio. Ratzinger is elected and takes the name Benedict XVI. Bergoglio goes home with a sigh of relief.
Fast-forward to 2013. Bergoglio writes a letter of resignation as archbishop of Buenos Aires to the pope, who does not reply. He buys a ticket to Rome and arrives at Castel Gandolfo after a long flight. Benedict makes him wait, so he visits with the gardener. Benedict greets the Latin American cardinal and invites him to talk as they walk in the garden, but he is brusque. Bergoglio is confused and tries to give Benedict his resignation letter, but Benedict refuses to take it.
That evening, they meet in the living room and talk soccer, the piano, and the tango. Benedict coldly tells Bergoglio, “I don’t like what you think, say, or do.” The next day, Benedict is called to Rome and they continue their conversation in the Sistine Chapel. As the day wears on, they talk about their earlier lives and one confesses to the other, who then gives absolution. They share a pizza together, and Benedict tells Bergoglio he is going to resign.
The magic of this mostly fictional film from Netflix is that it imagines an example of authentic listening and dialogue. We learn tolerance from a German pope and an Argentinian cardinal as each one comes to understand the views of the other. They give, take, push, and pull. In the end, they not only tolerate the other’s theological and pastoral perspectives, but also respect them. Based on the play and book The Pope: Francis, Benedict, and the Decision that Shook the World, the film is a vehicle for the brilliant Pryce and Hopkins to become their characters and show us how to get along in a chaotic world. The Two Popes is award worthy.
A-3, PG-13 References to clergy sex abuse.
The Irishman (Netflix)
Martin Scorsese returns to one of his preferred genres with The Irishman, based on the true story of Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro), a Philadelphia truck driver who becomes a hitman for the Bufalino crime family in the mid-1950s. He steals and sells merchandise from the truck and is arrested. A lawyer for the teamsters’ union, Bill Bufalino (Ray Romano), gets him off and introduces him to Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci).
Sheeran begins to do jobs—including murders—for the mob, and Russell introduces him to trade unionist Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino). He has business ties to the Bufalino family and is in a tight place. The federal government is on to Hoffa’s activities, and a younger member of the teamsters’ union, Anthony Provenzano (Stephen Graham), is threatening his position.
Hoffa, who cannot stand Robert F. Kennedy (Jack Huston), the attorney general under John F. Kennedy, ends up in prison for jury tampering. When he gets out of jail, Hoffa seeks to regain his position with the union. Frank continues to act friendly with Hoffa, but things soon change.
The only thing I appreciated about Scorsese’s three-and-a-half-hour film is the ending. The priest (Jonathan Morris) is endlessly patient as he leads the aging Frank to repentance after serving 13 years for fraudulent business practices and a life of crime. Based on Charles Brandt’s book I Heard You Paint Houses, Stephen Zaillian’s script tells a mob story we’ve seen many times before. Repentance is the key theme here. It is never too late.
L, R Violence, pervasive language.
Marriage Story (Netflix)
Writer/director Noah Baumbach returns to familiar territory with this film about a couple, Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) and Charlie (Adam Driver), who decide to divorce. Charlie is a busy theater director in Manhattan, and Nicole is an actress starring in one of his plays. The film opens with the two listing the good qualities of the other during a counselling session, but this cannot overcome Nicole’s inability to forgive Charlie’s infidelity. They decide on an amicable divorce, and Nicole takes their son, Henry (Azhy Robertson), with her to California, where she is starring in a television pilot. When expensive lawyers get involved (Laura Dern, Alan Alda, and Ray Liotta), things become acrimonious over child custody.
Marriage Story is a bleak and sad tale of the death of a marriage. What is so startling is Nicole and Charlie’s lack of depth about their lives. Yes, they mourn the end of their marriage, but Baumbach’s script offers no emotional or spiritual rationale for their sorrow. It is unclear if they knew why they married in the first place. They give up so easily.
Not yet rated, R Domestic arguments, brief reference to an extramarital affair.