|The Third Miracle
Dramatizing something internal, like a crisis of faith, is a nearly impossible task. Kevin
Smith tried to play the situation for laughs in his uneven but very reverential comedy DOGMA.
Director Agnieska Holland and screenwriters John Romano and Richard Vetere (working from
Vetere's novel) take a dramatic approach to the topic with THE THIRD MIRACLE. Clearly a lot
of care and intelligence have gone into the effort and despite the fine work of actors Ed Harris,
Anne Heche and Armin Mueller-Stahl the film unfortunately doesn't coalesce.
Audiences may be disoriented by the opening sequence, shot in grainy color to approximate
aged newsreel footage. A small town in central Europe is being bombed during World War II
and a young girl carrying a statue of the Virgin Mary kneels in the town square praying. The roar
of the airplanes and the whizzing bombs give way to a preternatural quiet as if the child's prayers
The film jumps thirty-five years to Chicago where Father Frank Shore (Harris) is living in a
flophouse and taking his meals at a soup kitchen. Father Shore was a professional postulator,
a priest who investigates reported miracles, who has retreated to this world after uncovering a
hoax in a town that destroyed the faith of its residents and called into question his own beliefs.
Now his services are being called for by a slick, politically savvy bishop (Charles Haid). Father
Shore is asked to investigate the case for sainthood of the one Helen O'Regan (Barbara
Sukowa, seen in home movies), who reportedly cured a young girl who prayed to her memory.
Not wanting to make the same mistakes as he has in the past, Father Shore moves forward
cautiously, tracking down the cured girl, now a runaway and prostitute. Complicating matters for
him is the presence of Helen's daughter Roxane (Heche), who claims that her mother abandoned
her in favor of the church. As Father Shore and Roxane draw closer -- she presents a palpable
temptation to this man whose own faith is wavering -- he is also working to champion Helen's
cause for sainthood. Enter the Vatican Emissary Archbishop Werner (Mueller-Stahl), who is
to play the role of Devil's Advocate in challenging the cause of sainthood. Werner and Shore
clash and in those scenes the film really comes alive.
Harris is saddled with the most difficult part and he does what he can to manifest what is
essentially an internalized conflict. (If this were a Shakespearean drama, he would have several
soliloquies that would clue the audience in to his feelings and beliefs.) Heche brings a distinctive
energy and eccentricity to the role of the dead woman's agnostic daughter and she and Harris
share a palpable chemistry. But as the focus of the movie shifts to the tribunal hearings, she
becomes more window dressing than integral character. Mueller-Stahl clearly relishes his
character and his scenes with Harris crackle, particularly in several pivotal confrontations.
(Director Holland has made reference to off-screen competition between the actors who have
decidedly different approaches to acting and that clearly plays out in the work.)
Holland deliberately styled the film to look as if it were made in the period in which it is set
and there are echoes of the work of Lumet and Friedkin in Jerzy Zielinski's cinematography and
David J. Siegel's editing but the story is too slight to warrant such care. Undoubtedly there will be
some in the institution of the Catholic Church who will object to the film but that's to be expected.
Holland and company have tried to offer a compelling tale that is reverential but not overly so.
Yet these good intentions cannot overcome the failings in the script which for long stretches drag.
THE THIRD MIRACLE is filled with good intentions and contains some fine acting; it's a pity it
is not more wondrous.
MPAA Rating: R for some language, sex-related and violent images,
and brief drug use
Running time: 119 mins.
|© 2006 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.