THE THIRD MIRACLE (Sony Pictures)
Written by C.E. Chambers and published by the Journal Newspapers Movie Edition, Vol. 23, Number 104, Feb. 15, 2000.
In a world looming increasingly closer to apocalypse, people are so desperate for God’s presence that “a guy cuts open an avocado” and sees something spiritual. This terse comment, made by a priest, isn’t exactly a healing balm to Father Frank Shore (Ed Harris). He’s just spent eight months as a lay person on the gritty streets of Chicago, eating in soup kitchens and torturously examining his shattered faith.
Prior to his self-imposed exile in 1979, Father Shore was a “spiritual detective” for the Catholic Church. Appointed by a cardinal, he diligently examined alleged miracles occurring among parishioners, compiling files on candidates for canonization that rival the FBI’s notorious investigations. In his zeal to collect information on a very popular candidate, he stumbled upon egregiously disturbing evidence regarding the older man’s final days. Since sainthood is considered synonymous with virtuosity, the news “destroyed the faith of an entire community” – and sent shock waves through Father Frank’s spiritual equilibrium.
But Father Shore is under obligation to a vow of obedience. The not-to-be-ignored Bishop Cahill sends for him to investigate the miracle-laced background of a much-loved, deceased immigrant woman named Helen. During this very challenging investigation, he finds himself powerfully drawn to her embittered, worldly daughter, Roxanna (Anne Heche), who considers her mother’s possible sainthood “pathetic.”
Ed Harris delivers one of the best performances of his career. He’s still the blue-eyed bulldog who can ignite sparks without saying a word, but his persona in this film is fascinatingly integrated. He’s never been better than when he slowly cruises in an old car through Chicago’s worst slums in search of a teenager with a miracle past, funky music playing in the background. Also, his guileless, verbal sparring with high-ranking members of a church tribunal gathered to examine evidence on Helen is a fascinating, uncommon portrayal. The haughty and demeaning Archbishop Werner (Armin Mueller-Stahl) is the man viewers love to hate – until a bizarre twist at movie’s end bares his soul. Actress Anne Heche splendidly holds her own against the riveting Harris, and the acrid Roxanna and tortured priest’s attraction is palpable.
Superb acting aside, the major part of this compelling movie is a very bumpy ride through self-doubt and inner-city hopelessness. World-weary, sardonic religious heads are unattractively linked with bleeding statues and unexplained theology. The last third of the film, though, is a spiritual triumph, a sun-washed ending to an uneven, very unpredictable storyline. A lot of movies ask questions but never provide the answers. The Third Miracle, based on a book by Richard Vetere, ultimately answers the most important one: God sometimes chooses the foolish things of the world to shame the wise.
(Rated R: implied sexual act; bloody body; sensual kissing scene)
(Published by “The Journal Newspapers Movie Edition,” Vol. 23, Number 104, Feb. 15, 2000)