Saturday, December 20, 2008

Film Review: THE THIRD MIRACLE (1999, Agnieszka Holland)

Stars: 4 of 5.
Running Time: 118 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Ed Harris, Anne Heche, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Barbara Sukowa (Fassbinder and von Trier alum), Michael Rispoli.
Tag-line: "Everyone needs to believe in something."

MYTH: Ed Harris only plays intense characters. FACT: Ed Harris only plays REALLY INTENSE characters. THE THIRD MIRACLE is the second of three collaborations between Ed Harris and Polish director Agnieszka Holland, the first being TO KILL A PRIEST, and the most recent being COPYING BEETHOVEN. Agnieszka is at her best when she's writing her own screenplays, and unfortunately, that's not the case here. This is a cliche-ridden, highly predictable script of a period piece that never really seems like one. But the acting...ah, the acting. Ed Harris, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Michael Rispoli, Barbara Sukowa, and even Anne Heche (who really looks like she could be Sukowa's daughter) deliver nuanced performances with a serious degree of commitment to the roles. They're unleashed on the subpar script and manage to transform it into a pretty solid movie. Ed plays a REALLY INTENSE priest trying to judge the veracity of a possible saint's miracles.

In the course of his investigation, he talks smack to an archbishop and follows it up with a smarmy grin, tastes the blood flowing from a statue, makes out with Anne Heche, reaches up to the heavens in despair, physically restrains an unruly prostitute, and basically does everything a priestly Ed Harris should. Again, I never thought I'd say this, but Harris is giving Keitel a serious run for his money for the mantle of 'most intense working actor.' Four REALLY INTENSE stars. Try not to burst a blood vessel, Ed.

Side note: Check out Ed's eyes in the poster art- it almost looks like a prefiguration of Ed's scarred, intense eye in A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE. Unfortunately, Ed does not have the crazy eye in this film, though I shudder to think how great the film would have been if he had.

-Sean Gill

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