(1999)2.5Brian J. DillardAn unlikely combination of medieval miracle play, police procedural, and star-crossed romance, The Third Miracle attempts to perform a juggling act and almost succeeds on the strength of its balanced direction. Polish New Wave veteran Agnieszka Holland has focused on the nature of faith, the boundaries of identity and the specter of war before, and it shows; her character-driven evocation of such themes is the one thread that ties Third Miracle's disparate elements together. In one sense the film offers a behind-the-scenes look at Catholic bureaucracy, suggesting that the Church is a huge multinational company like any other, full of middle-managers and unchecked egos. In another sense, it's a study of one man's search for faith -- of the sense of hope that sometimes hides behind skepticism. On both of these counts, Holland and her fine cast succeed admirably. Ed Harris is smart and solid as the priest who must investigate an alleged miracle, while Anne Heche turns in another fine portrait of a brassy, vulnerable neurotic. The romantic subplot between the two feels unforced; it's almost integral to the development of Harris' character. Yet the twist-laden central plot is more suitable to a soap opera than a serious meditation on faith, and the final act -- which focuses on a church tribunal as it decides whether to canonize a new saint -- feels like a stock legal drama transplanted from the courtroom to the rectory. The film's most compelling moments are actually its quietest, as when Harris' character watches a muted videotape of the alleged saint and sees the inscrutability of the divine reflected in her guarded eyes. Thanks to scenes such as this one, the film's rich themes linger, unresolved, long after the credits roll. The unwieldy combination of undigested genre elements, however, marks this as a lesser work in Holland's impressive oeuvre.