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Following the premature death of his mother, Karol Wojtyla is brought up by his father in the Polish city of Krakow during the first half of the 20th century. An outstanding student with a magnetic personality, he dreams of becoming an actor. When his homeland is invaded by the Nazis in 1939, he and his friends secretly oppose the systematic persecution of their Polish culture. But, with the death of his father and the lacerating solitude which accompanies this loss, Karol's personal "resistance" takes on a new form and he decides to follow a priestly vocation. At the end of the war, Poland falls into the grip of Soviet totalitarianism. The newly ordained Karol is constantly surrounded by young people whom he teaches to safeguard and defend human dignity. He could be considered a serious threat to the regime, but the Communist authorities merely see him as an innocuous intellectual and even encourage his nomination for the position of bishop. Karol Wojtila is the youngest bishop in ... Written by
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When John Paul gives the Urbi et Orbi blessing after he is elected, there are 16 people standing on the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica. But in the following wide shot from St. Peter's Square, only two people can be seen on the balcony. See more »
Folks, last night I watched the second and last part of CBS's biopic on Pope John Paul the Great, and as far as I'm concerned, of the three papal biopics I've seen this year, this one is the best, and the most faithful to the late Pope's life.
So far, this is the only biopic that has respected the order of events in Pope John Paul's life. There was good attention to detail: the conclave scene is faithful down in terms of place and ceremony. You may clearly see the cardinals' seats in the Sistine Chapel, as well as the three-cardinal committee that counted the ballots, everything, including the cry of "extra omnes" ("everyone out") preceding the start of the election, was authentic. The ABC's biopic that aired last Thursday rendition of the same moment seemed oversimplified and rushed in comparison.
The real strength of the movie lies in its cast. Cary Elwes played the younger Karol Wojtyla in the movie's first part and I have to say that at times, and from certain angles, he closely resembled the young Wojtyla. But the thing I liked the most is that he projected an *inner joy* and peace that was captivating. Wojtyla was no sourpuss and Elwes "got it right." The only thing that appeared inauthentic is that when he portrayed the late pope's quarry days during the Nazi occupation, he too seemed chubby and well-fed as compared to pictures Wojtyla in pictures taken at the time. The Nazi diet in Poland was not the best fare and it showed in Wojtyla even on his first photos as a priest. Apparently, Elwes hesitated to go into a drastic diet to change his looks so drastically for this role. I can't say I blame him.
For John Voight, this was an Emmy-worthy performance. It helped that Voight resembled the Pope physically, sharing the same square, strong jaw as John Paul. The way Voight captured Pope John Paul's accent and baritone voice was at times pretty scary, so much so that I wonder how much of his lines were lip-synced to existing audio tracks of the late Pope. Voight's countenance when he opened the Holy Doors for the Year 2000 Jubilee so uncannily resembled John Paul's that I had to blink a couple of times to ensure that I was watching Voight and not John Paul. Therefore, kudos and congrats go too to CBS's makeup department for such an outstanding job. Maybe there's an Emmy here for them too.
Voight captured John Paul's physical suffering so much so that it was inspiring. I bet that is not easy to capture a face paralyzed by Parkinson's disease, but Voight did it, down to the trickle of saliva off the side of his mouth at the reenactment of the Pope's last public appearance.
Secondary characters: James Cromwell played Cardinal Adam Sapieha, Wojtyla's first mentor and Archbishop of Krakow during WWII. You might remember from roles as the robot developer and inventor in _I, Robot_ and as the warp drive inventor, Zefram Cochrane in _Star Trek: First Contact_. He did well in this movie.
Christopher Lee played Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski of Warsaw, Wojtyla's other mentor. You may remember that Lee played Count Doku in the last two episodes of the _Star Wars_ prequel. That was weird I feel bad that I've type-casted poor Christopher Lee into a bad guy role for ever and ever.
I also applaud the portrayal of the Pope's "nephews and nieces," his inner circle of friends and spiritual children, from whom Wojtyla learned so much about the human condition. His friendship with "Roman," a Jewish childhood friend was endearing and illustrative of Pope John Paul's big heartalthough I have to say that I don't remember "Roman" from any of the bios I've read about John Paul. Maybe "Roman" is a composite character. The name of the Pope's childhood Jewish friend was different in the other two biopics. That leads me to believe that's probably the case.
One bad point: the scene where the Pope was in his open pope mobile cruising St. Peter's Plaza, with the columnata in the background, and the crowd in front of him, on his way to be shot by Mehmet Ali Agca looked fake through and through. The three "layers" were superimposed and they sort of "shook" out of sync with normal movement. It may me dizzy to look at it. Thumbs down to the special effects people.
All-in-all, it was a great production. As soon as I'm able, I'll get me the DVD.
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