The Third Miracle On DVD

Ed Harris, Anne Heche, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Michael Rispoli, Charles Haid, James Gallanders. Directed by Agnieszka Holland. Aspect ratios: 1.85:1 (anamorphic), 4:3 (full-screen). Dolby Digital 2.0. 118 minutes. 1999. Sony Pictures Classics 04755. R. $29.95.

Frank Shore (Ed Harris) is the priest they call the "miracle-killer"—the man the Chicago diocese calls in to investigate candidates for sainthood. As The Third Miracle begins, Shore has left the cloistered life to live among the homeless, haunted by the results of his last investigation. However, he's not allowed to wallow in his moment of spiritual crisis. He's needed to investigate a new candidate—a Chicago housewife who deserted her daughter to live at the church and tend to the children there.

He begins by going through the motions, but gradually becomes convinced that things might be different this time. Eventually, he leads the fight for sanctification, even though he can't swear to his own faith.

The Third Miracle is that rare movie that takes religion seriously—and the even rarer one that gives equal gravity to doubt. Father Shore's struggle to believe in God, in saints, in his own calling, forms the core of the film, and Harris, in yet another masterful performance, evokes these doubts through facial expressions and his eyes. His performance should have won Harris every accolade and award out there, yet the chances are you've never heard of it. Nor does he work in a vacuum—James Gallanders, Anne Heche, and Armin Mueller-Stahl are also remarkable.

The Third Miracle is beautifully filmed, and Holland and cinematographer Jerzy Zielenski crafted several "looks" for the film—flashbacks are darker, grainier, and, oddly, "realer"-looking than the straight narrative, which, paradoxically, gives the flashbacks a dreamlike, almost elegiac quality. The soundtrack is refined, but essentially confined to the three front channels. Jan A. P. Kaczmarek's restrained score adds to the film's overall beauty.

In her commentary, Agnieszka Holland says she was attracted to The Third Miracle because of her desire to "tell a story." She has accomplished that with taste and profound intelligence. Chances are that you missed this in the theater; don't let this marvelous DVD slip by as well.