By David Kenney
Faith can be a fickle thing. You believe, you struggle, you think you’re free, but faith still gets you in the end. It’s that nagging voice in the back of your head you can’t get rid of.
Ed Harris would know. As reluctant Father Frank Shore in The Third Miracle, Harris avoids faith only to be cornered by it.
Melting away in a soup kitchen, Shore is lured back to the church to fulfill his "vow of obedience." His return is akin to a bratty kid’s unconvincing apology. Soon, he’s sent on a mission to prove a deceased immigrant woman is worthy of sainthood. This is where his fall from grace/rise from grace begins. But this is no holy-redemption drama.
Harris’ character is every bit real as anyone who’s struggled with faith, religious or otherwise. Shore bites his tongue and grimaces every step of the way back to life as a priest.
Along the way, Harris falls in love with the saint-in-question’s daughter Roxanne (Anne Heche). Narcissistic and punchy, Heche jilts Harris towards passion only to be rebuffed by it. The chemistry between the two is awkward enough to make the audience squirm slightly.
And that’s just part of the faith debate; The Third Miracle chronicles a journey away from desire and material possessions. Harris fights himself, God, and living in the present instead of the future. His decisions are surprising, but reasonable.
But hold on–this isn’t a morality tale either. Neither Harris nor his holy henchmen preach heavy gospel, nor is this film destined to inspire future priests. What it does is show that, believe it or not, priests are humans too.
Asking, "How does faith get away from us?" Harris’ straight-faced and desperate question echoes with familiarity. His strife is compelling and gut-wrenching, and at the canonization trial, Harris’ tirades are shakingly powerful.
Then there’s the whole Anne Heche thing. Their relationship is pure eye-candy with a true opposites-attract mess. Her devil’s advocate role serves as a nice contrast to Harris’ stark devotion to service. Her magnetism with Harris is tight enough to short circuit and overwhelm the audience.
Still, The Third Miracle isn’t too heavy. Between distress and bliss lies a story strong but subtle.
No miracle indeed.
The Third Miracle opens March 24.