"Will a Chicago woman become the next saint?" asks the breathless
television reporter on location at the site where the dead woman's blood
appears on a statue of the Virgin Mary. Actually, the blood isn't
currently in evidence since it only comes out during the month of
November and only when it rains. Don't ask.
Yes, in THE THIRD MIRACLE it's time again to lambaste and lampoon one of
Hollywood's favorites, the Catholic Church. The Catholic hierarchy is
shown, as always, flaunting their wealth. The local bishop (Charles
Haid) goes to fancy spas where he gets mud packs. Acting like a CEO, he
hobnobs with other wealthy locals at $5,000 a plate dinners. The
nefarious Archbishop Wener (Armin Mueller-Stah), known within the church
as "the devil's advocate," rides in long black limousines and looks down
at the people like unwashed rabble.
The church employs priests ostensibly to discover saints but actually to
prove contenders unworthy of canonization. Chief among these debunkers
is Father Frank Shore (Ed Harris), known as "the miracle killer." A
cynical man, who has long since given up his own belief in God, Father
Shore is convincing as a non-believer, however it is hard to imagine a
time when he ever believed. Although he is shown as a ruthless
investigator in the past, this time he proposes the Chicago woman as a
saint with relatively little digging, one of the many problems with the
What director Agnieszka Holland (WASHINGTON SQUARE) gives us in the
place of plausibility are lots of atmospherics. On numerous occasions
she has the camera pan up the side of dilapidated inner city buildings
to see the underbelly of low-flying, large jet planes overhead. Their
loud rumble and their dominant size must have some important symbolism.
What that meaning might be is less clear. The same goes for the film's
wonderful, eclectic score. It doesn't go with the movie, but it's treat
to listen to.
Harris, who is miscast as a priest, is given a female companion. Anne
Heche plays Roxanna, the non-religious daughter of the would-be saint.
Roxanna still resents the way her mother dumped her at age 16 so that
the mother could follow God's calling. With attractive leads like Harris
and Heche, think Father Shore might be inclined to break his vows of
celibacy? This subplot is stuck into the story clearly just for the
If you need to know precisely what saints do once they go to heaven, the
pedantic movie explains this and other mysteries. Father Shore tells
Roxanna that saints are important because they have God's ear, so that
people on earth can enlist the saints' help with God. "Do you believe
all of this?" Roxanna asks him. "You ask tough questions," he replies
after a pregnant pause.
The movie is like that interchange about belief. Masquerading as a
religious picture -- the press kit talks more about saints than about
the movie -- the film doesn't deliver. A movie can poke fun at religion
and still seriously consider issues of faith, see DOGMA for example. THE
THIRD MIRACLE, on the other hand, plays as a cheap mockery of serious
faith. There are few members of the clergy in it that are credible.
When first confronted with the possibility that an American might be
proposed for sainthood, European Archbishop Wener puts down such a
ludicrous notion with xenophobic reasoning. "Is it truly the soil in
which sainthood can grow?" he says in disbelief about America. Disbelief
is what this movie is all about. One thing can be said for it, even if
the picture is balderdash, it is quite well-acted balderdash. Harris, in
particular, pours his heart and soul into a role that's lacking in both.
THE THIRD MIRACLE runs 2:00. It is rated R for some language,
sex-related and violent images, and brief drug use. It would be
acceptable for most teenagers.
Copyright © 2000 Steve Rhodes