Movie Critic Columnist
Pope St. John Paul II’s feast day was Oct. 22, and because of this, I chose to critique “Pope John Paul II,” a 2005 film. The film follows the saint through his life, starting with the Nazi occupation of Poland to his death in 2005.
Cary Elwes and Jon Voight both portray Pope St. John Paul II with Elwes playing him as a young man until he becomes pope and Voight taking over the role from there. Despite two different actors portraying him, it doesn’t distract nor take away from the film. It adds a creative twist to it, which makes it flow well.
It is also reflective of the beginning of a new chapter in his life and shows how he became someone of greater responsibility than he was before.
Elwes’ performance is stunning to say the least. He gives such a depth to his portrayal and a deep spirituality that is captivating. The saint’s thoughtfulness, caring nature and growth during the Nazi occupation of Poland is brought to the screen in one of the most amazing ways I have seen.
Elwes’ reactions are genuine from seeing his friends taken away to having discussions while hiking; the effects are clearly seen on his face. He is also sincere in prayer, which is hard to do without being cliché or cringeworthy.
Voight gives a similar performance although one of less stellar nature. He does well with the role in much the same way as Elwes, yet at times, it feels more rehearsed and stiff than relaxed. He may be portraying an older John Paul II but he is sometimes too rigid, subtracting from what he is trying to convey.
Despite this, however, his performance is still powerful. The love John Paul II had for all people and the need to reach out to them is carried in Voight’s voice and physicality.
Along with the great performances of its two leading actors, the film also gives an accurate representation of John Paul II in showing his struggles and how he overcame them. Too often in faith films, people are saints from the beginning and persevere through everything with ease. That is cliché and disinteresting.
However, in this film, John Paul II’s struggles are shown on multiple levels. Whether it be the death of his father, his responsibilities, et cetera, the film does not shy away from presenting them. It adds to his character and gives the audience not only someone to relate to in struggling but also an example to follow.
Yet part of what sets this film apart from many others is the attention it gives to the life of John Paul II. His message of love and a deep caring for others is represented throughout the film, especially with speeches that he gives.
The film paid close attention to the unity and love the great saint wanted to spread. It stayed true to his life and paid great respect to him in carrying his message in the film.
I have loved this film for years and every time I watch it, I am always captivated by it. It has a way of connecting with a person on a deeper level and speaking to his or her heart in a way that is rarely seen today.
“Pope John Paul II” is an excellent portrayal of one of the Catholic Church’s most well-known saints. It will pull you into the life of Karol Wojtyla and allow you to walk with him as he becomes Pope John Paul II. It will move you to tears, touch your heart and inspire you in many unique and beautiful ways.