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January 21 - 28, 2000

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The Third Miracle

by Peter Keough

They're the hottest couple on the screen right now, and the unlikeliest. Father Frank Shore (Ed Harris), troubled priest, and Roxane (Anne Heche), troubled daughter of a dead woman poised for sainthood, crackle with unstated lust from their first scene together, when she looks into his eyes and says, "Is this where I'm supposed to say you don't look like a priest?" Had director Agnieszka Holland brought some of that pizzazz to the rest of the movie, or drawn on the inspiration that propelled her Europa Europa and The Secret Garden, The Third Miracle might well have been miraculous.

Sometimes it is. In the opening scene, Holland is in familiar territory. A battered town in Slovakia in 1944 is rocked by Allied bombs, a little girl prays to a statue of the Virgin, and a wounded German soldier looks up to the sky and certain death. His face changes -- something extraordinary has happened.

Thirty-five years later in Chicago, something extraordinary happens again: a statue of the Virgin weeps blood and a deceased local woman is prayed to as the source of the miracle. "Postulator" Frank Shore, himself a wreck after a previous "successful" investigation, is called in to debunk it. But Helen's credentials prove irreproachable. Moreover, Frank has fallen in love with her apostate daughter Roxane. Faith demands that Frank plead Helen's case for sainthood, but love insists he ditch it all for Roxane.

Do miracles exist? Do they indicate an all-powerful God of benevolent design or an imbecile who plays games? These puzzles pale before the more urgent question of why Frank and Roxane don't drop the mumbo-jumbo and just get it on. Although Holland has some tricks up her sleeve -- that third miracle, for example -- this is a case where the flesh is willing but the spirit is weak.

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