The Third Miracle (1999)
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"The Third Miracle" is one of the overlooked films of 1999, and I definitely suggest you give it a viewing. You won't be disappointed.
My score: 7 (out of 10)
It wouldn't matter if the "religion" involved were something other than Christian (spedifically Catholic). This could have been a story about Jews, Baha'is, Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, or Zoroastrians. Within the context of each religion is the matter of how each believer learns and lives his faith. It is a personal struggle, a mystical relationship that draws each toward his Creator. The events portrayed in the film may seem to some to be fantastic or surreal, but faith is also each of those. Miracles are intended for those who witness them, and they are simply what happens when a higher law than the one we thought immutable comes into play. One can't prove a miracle to another any more than the other can disprove it.
The two most interesting characters are those portrayed by Ed Harris and Armin Mueller-Stahl. Each has had profound experiences with both faith and religion, and come to starkly differing conclusions. And yet each man's dedication to his convictions is compelling. Harris' scene in the confessional booth is a heart-wrenching example of how impotent one can feel when in moments of doubt. Mueller-Stahl later gives a chilling demonstration of the intolerance that can arise when one denies the promptings of the spirit: "Caprice of God! I would say it to His face if He were here now!"
As for the rest of the movie, I will leave that to those who write in very clever and articulate language about character and plot development, cinematography, and such. I will say that I found no serious flaws in it, from the small amount I have learned of such things from reading many such reviews. I'm not sure why such illusory fare as Pulp Fiction becomes legendary, while a faithful rendering of human realities like The Third Miracle becomes a marginalized curiosity. Do we derive more inspiration from caricatures than from characterizations?
The saint to be or not to be is portrayed by Barbara Sukowa - for me, she can very well be a saint after her passionate performance of 1986 "Rosa Luxemberg", followed with her role in 1991 "Voyager" played opposite Sam Shepard and Julie Delpy. The reason of one leaving a loved one dear to one's heart, like her daughter (Anne Heche) when she was 16, hearkens to Julianne Moore's character in 1999 "The End of the Affair" where she left someone (Ralph Fiennes) she loved wholeheartedly, because of a silent promise to God due to God's answer to one's prayer. This is a similar dilemma Father Frank Shore (Ed Harris) is actually coping with.
Before "The Third Miracle", I didn't realize there's a whole Roman Catholic Church vocabulary unto its own, e.g., postulator, beatify, canonize, saint - these words were described in the dictionary within the breadth of "Roman Catholic Church." Miracle or not, it's up to the believer. How one worships is also to one's own design.
The film, on the surface, may feel rather like a Hollywood drama, yet it is not your usual topic. There are gritty scenes and challenging questions raised against one's attitude to faith. Ed Harris, Anne Heche, Armin Mueller-Stahl are a combination of actors worth watching. Whatever and however your feelings are about the subject of this film, it ultimately celebrates life.
Miraculously for 1999, "DOGMA" is an imaginative, creative piece on the Roman Catholic Church. Writer-director Kevin Smith (1994 "Clerks", 1996 "Chasing Amy") delivered an ensemble cast with Linda Fiorentino (John Dahl's 1994 "The Last Seduction") as the virginal divine connection in the center of it all; Matt Damon and Ben Affleck as the pair of angels in distress; Chris Tucker as the thirteenth apostle; and other colorful characters on this blessed adventure of a satirical religious journey. It's fun. You can tell the actors all have an enjoyable time delivering this fantasy piece!
Along the lines of miracles and controversies, 1995 "GOSPA" (means "Our Lady" in Croatian) is a film about a reportedly true event in Medjugorje, where six children believed they saw the Virgin Mary in 1981, and millions of pilgrims have visited the site since then. It follows the struggle of the parish priest (Martin Sheen) who defended the six children; it becomes more of a political drama with evolving prison and courtroom scenes. Not your usual box office fare.
Also remotely reminded me of the Schwarzenegger's 1999 "End of days", where explosive devilish special effects treatment were used in the course of the redemption of a young woman (Robin Tunney), while "The Third Miracle" provides a more thought provoking film in following the course of a young girl's (Maria) salvation, and even a glimpse into what a Vatican tribunal might have been like. The film is full of details and they came at a subtly non-stop pace, yet director Agnieszka Holland is not thrusting anything at you, rather, the film kind of grows on you after you leave the cinema. If you want something different, try this film - go see it with an open mind.
It takes confirmation of three miracles to elect a candidate to sainthood. By the end of the film, two have been confirmed. And what a wonderful way to confirm the second miracle? The confirmation is given by the Devil's Advocate himself.
But, pay attention to the title of the film.
What is the third miracle?
Magnificent. A thinking man's film.
Hollywood should be ashamed. They could never make a film this good.
Faith, doubt and miracles are the subjects tackled in The Third Miracle written by John Romano and based on the novel by Richard Vetere. Directed by Agnieszka Holland and starring two-time Academy Award nominee Ed Harris, this 2003 film opens in a flophouse in the late 1970's. Father Frank Shore (Harris), a priest who is faltering in his faith and who has stepped away from the church, eats his meals in soup kitchens, and does what he can to help those less fortunate with whom he lives. A professional postulator ( a person who investigates claims of sainthood) Father Frank is being summoned back to authenticate the miracles of a recently deceased immigrant woman named Helen O'Regan (Barbara Sukowa) who spent her last years living in a convent as a layperson. Loved by all, she is credited with healing a young girl, and every November (the month she died) the statue weeps blood. Known as "the miracle killer" it was just such an assignment that "destroyed the faith of an entire community," and has caused his own crisis of faith. Doubt may be healthy for a layperson, but in a priest it is a certain sign of apostasy according to Archbishop Werner (Armin Muellar-Stahl) who is sent by Rome to undermine his findings in front of a church tribunal. The hierarchy of the Catholic Church is not well portrayed in this film. The Archbishop's rigid determination that no saint could possibly came out of America, especially one as "ordinary" as wife and mother Helen O'Regan, counterbalances the Bishop who talks politics over golf, spends long afternoons being massaged and mud-packed, and invites colleagues to high-profile gatherings based solely on their ability to converse wittily over cocktails. Even the poor Chicago parish where the possible-saint-to-be lived is tarnished, as the local priest proudly displays rows of scarlet electric pushbutton candles for parishioners to light when they offer a prayer. Doubt and cynicism live side-by-side in Father Frank, and neither this, nor his meeting with O'Regan's feisty, atheist daughter Roxanna (Anne Heche) surprises him. Angry that the mother who abandoned her for the church is even being considered for sainthood, Roxanna invites the priest to dance on her mother's grave in an odd, yet surprisingly sexual scene. Chemistry notwithstanding, the priest is saved from further faltering by a rainy night miracle to which he is a firsthand witness. Reclaiming his collar along with his faith, he returns to the church and argues his case before the tribunal. Several other twists and turns add to the courtroom-like suspense-some we see coming and others we do not-and contribute to an enjoyable two hours. The only question that remains is: What exactly is the third miracle to which the title points? Two are arguably attributed to the candidate for sainthood, but what of the third? On the face of it, it may simply be Father Frank's return to faith, but I would argue that the miracle is ours. Rather than calling us to believe the miracles of this "saint of the people who live in the ordinary world," I suggest it calls us to look for the miracles in our own ordinary lives. In the last scene of the movie we see the first two miracles: the restoration of Father Frank Shore and the joyous motherhood of Roxanna. The third miracle is not named because it can't be named; it is different for us all. It exists in the ordinariness of our lives, and it is up to us to find it.
A priest saying G*DD*MN*D is like lung doctor lighting a cigarette, provoking, like a movie of this kind should be. It's meant to leave something to think about, for me it was commitment of an individual priest finding his way in mass traffic between his left and right ear. I enjoy these true emotions or behavior because i believe everyone on earth has a set of weaknesses. I like these true emotions and choices when it comes to mind digging.
Surely it's understandable that heavy religious people might be offended -the Archbishop was in the Nazi's army, drove around in a limo like a king and thought he was God himself-, but it's not the bible, I see it as a tale in a Catholic setting.
This movie is based on personal choices, activated by a game of chess between animal nature and common sense. Throw in some faith and a time structured plot, have it sequenced very well, put in some great dialogue and moody setting, you will get a well deserved great movie! I recommend this film, it's in a way uplifting.
The difference in the films is what the two priests are after. In `Stigmata' it is a force that is killing the woman. In `Third' the priest (played by Ed Harris) investigates the credentials of candidates for sainthood. If he can confirm that the candidate is responsible for three miracles, he can recommend that the person be made a saint.
Harris feels guilty because a recent investigation has led to an entire community losing its faith. As a result, he has become known as `the miracle killer.' But in the course of `The Third Miracle's' plot, which focuses on Harris' investigation of a simple woman in 1979 Chicago, he regains his faith.
Convinced that there have indeed been three miracles, Harris must then argue his case before a church tribunal. A skeptical archbishop who is convinced that such a common American woman should not be granted sainthood opposes him.
The climax of the film is predictable-the average moviegoer should be able to see it soon after the archbishop is introduced. Unfortunately, the movie tacks on an ambiguous ending that leaves us wondering if the priest and woman's redemption aren't the true miracles.
The film raises a final question: Has Ed Harris ever given a bad performance, or even had a bad scene? He is assisted here by two fine other actors, Anne Heche and Armin Mueller-Stahl.
Ed Harris, in a solid performance, stars as the man whose job it is to verify these ostensible miracles but who, like most movie priests it seems, has come to question his faith and to doubt his own worthiness to even carry out the task. Anne Heche delivers her customary fine performance as the cynical daughter of the woman whose potential candidacy for canonization sets the plot in motion. Indeed, the film is at its most intriguing when it allows us to get a glimpse of the behind-the-scenes nuts-and-bolts machinations that the church uses in determining the viability of sainthood. We watch as the Catholic hierarchy treads the fine line between faith in supernatural intervention and the more worldly concerns of pragmatic politics. We see the petty jealousies, character attacks and power struggles that reduce even the most ethereal of ventures to the level of basic human frailty. In many ways, this broader conflict reflects the one which rages on a more intimate, personal level within the tortured psyche of Harris' character himself. It is his internal struggle between doubt and faith, between the physical and the spiritual, between strength and weakness that manages to keep the many strands of the plot together even when the film, at times, verges a bit on the banal and the tedious. Happily, too, the film does not succumb to the fashionable secular cynicism that is all too common in films today. `The Third Miracle' manages to explore the many-sided complexity of this issue without trashing the spiritual nature of the topic in the process.
`The Third Miracle' is not by any stretch a great film, but it succeeds in exploring a tricky subject without insulting the intelligence of the audience along the way. After `Stigmata,' we offer our most humble thanks for that.
Through the whole movie, Anne Heche was damaged and bitter about her mother and Ed Harris was disillusioned and shaky about his vocation, but in the end their doubts were overcome and they were both instruments of God in their respective ways. The miracle is that Ed Harris can be joyful in giving first communion to the children and Anne Heche is going to be a great mother.
The point of the movie is that not all miracles are going to be bombs disappearing in mid-air and deathbed patients getting up and walking down the church aisle--that God answers prayers with quiet miracles all the time.
The script however leaves me more or less clueless. The plot is basicly about a catholic priest who is assigned to test the possible sainthood of a recently deceased lady credited with two miracles. During the investigation he has has to face his own fears and doubts about his faith plus a various selection of earthly temptations.
Surprisingly the film seems to side with the whole catholic idea of sainthood, celibacy and a priesthood living their lives under the oath of obedience. This seems to be something as rare as a modern religious missionating movie.
The films other qualities makes it recommendable even to a non religious audience, but i think you have to be catholic to truly appreciate the script.
Honestly, I rated this film a 1 because of this horrid plot twist at the end. I would have rated it an 8 otherwise. The acting was alright, cinematography was nice as it had some footage that had to look like WWII footage, and there was an underlying plot of the priest finding his faith. Plus it managed to not bag on the Catholic church too much. I'm not Catholic, but I don't really enjoy the films that are too polar on the church.
So anyhow, if they could just cut off the last 2 minutes of the film it would have been great. As it is, IT SUCKS. It's like reading a short story for 20 minutes only to find out that the narrator was just dreaming or something. CHEAP TRICK, YOU BUTTHEADS, don't do it again.
Unlike other recent "religious" movies that dealt (badly) with secret cabals within the Catholic Church and evil in apocalyptic proportions (Stigmata, End of Days), or were iconoclastic satirical "exposes" (Dogma) religion is almost a cursory concern in Miracle. Character development is the saving grace if you will of this film. Shying away from special effects and dramatic action shots, the film focuses on the personal struggles that most people go through regardless of the source, be it personal development, career goals or faith. The performances are reflective of this.
Harris, known for his stoic, macho (read stale) characters took a risk with this role as a confused, vulnerable priest. It proved to be a wise decision, as he delivers what is arguably the finest performance of his career. Charles Haid is repugnant as a narcissistic Bishop, more concerned with cocktail parties and schmoozing with politicians, than he is with spiritual purity. Armin Mueller-Stahl is riveting as the Devil's advocate, a snobbish Archbishop who feels that the only legitimate qualification for sainthood is martyrdom and unknowingly holds the key to a mystery. The one weak link is Heche's character, an incidental hanger-on, but this is the fault of poor writing, rather than a bad performance.
Very well done.
Same goes for miracles. What is it with blood-crying statues of the Virgin anyway? If I remember correctly there was one in Stigmata as well (and in Central Station?). And, come on, there must be a less hokey way to deal with miracles than by having a little girl walk into a church all covered in blood, then turn out a junkie, then resurrect from the dead for the whole shamed bunch of priests to see. It was all very dramatic and very corny. Myself, I preferred the heavy-handed spookiness of Stigmata: at least the force of the divine was truly palpable and religion was not reduced to someone's psychological drama.
I wish someone gave Anna Heche a role in which her incredible sexiness and charisma were used a bit better than to seduce old guys and priests. That was bit of a useless side-tracking, wasn't it? Or was it a selling technique? Either way, we could have done without it.
On a purely human level, the movie is about doubt: Ed Harris is Father Frank Shore, an American priest asked by his Bishop (Charles Haid) to investigate Helen (Barbara Sukowa) an American candidate for sainthood. Along the way, Frank uncovers miraculous deeds, encounters his own doubts about his calling, and eventually seems to believe in miracles.
Other main characters have their doubts too: the prospective saint's non-Catholic daughter Roxane (Anne Heche in one of her best performances to date), the stuffy official Vatican investigator Cardinal Werner (Armin Mueller-Stahl), and Maria (Caterina Scorsone), the troubled subject of one of the questionable miracles.
Good prerequisites for this film might be Martin Scorsese's film version of Nikos Kazantzakis' The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) and most of Federico Fellini's films, in particular 8 1/2 (1963) and Juliet of the Spirits (1965).
Holland lets the Church off lightly compared to Fellini, but she does successfully underscore the pomposity of the cardinals and bishops in their big cars and sparkling vestments. This leads to an essential question about her reasoning and the meaning of film's ending, but I won't give that away: I'll leave that for you to judge.
Each character in this film experiences conflict with their faith and they work to resolve this throughout the film. I think that this is the most authentic part of the film and certainly the most rewarding. To that end, including the incredible story of several miracles and how they tie together the characters and the story delivers what I believe to be one of the better Catholic based films I've seen.
Enjoy this story.