During the first 45 minutes of The Two Popes, I thought I was watching a classic-to-be. That should have been the whole movie: two great actors, whether in a sunny garden or a marbled chamber, trading quips and confessions and building their unlikely friendship. It was as if another director directed the second half of the movie, when the film resorted to extensive expository flashbacks that build up to Pope Francis’s heroic and crowd-pleasing anointment. The flashbacks (which would have been effective if used sparingly) seemed to want to add complexity to Francis (this could have been just-as-well achieved during their garden conversations), but it all feels cheap in the end, as the movie veers toward what seems like hagiography, at best, or a Vatican-endorsed PR job, at worst.
I have nicer things to say about Thunder Road, which was highlighted by a very weird performance by Jim Cummings, who somehow manages to make tragedy-induced anguish feel both real and funny. I usually think rage-induced rants and screaming matches are usually desperate ways for filmmakers to manufacture “high drama,” and while Thunder Road has its share of these, they always seemed fresh, even a bit subversive. It’s an unfair universe where someone like Adam Driver (who’s in his own meltdown movie) will likely get a nomination for Marriage Story while Jim Cummings will likely be ignored. My main criticism is that the daughter character, and the supporting cast in general, couldn’t keep up with Cummings.