Matthew Lickona 8 p.m., Dec. 17
The Third Miracle
A serious (and unsentimental) consideration of faith and the Omnipotent. Set in the late Seventies, when the Catholic Church required three miracles for sainthood in place of the new lowered standard of two, it tells of a grassroots campaign to canonize an immigrant Chicago woman, linked to good works in her lifetime and to a bleeding statue and a miracle cure since her death. The investigation of the case falls to a backsliding priest (the virile Ed Harris) whose questioning of his calling does not disqualify him from the task in the eyes of the local cardinal, still grateful to him for a "brilliant" earlier investigation that earned him the nickname of "The Miracle Killer" and a guilty conscience to go with it: "I destroyed the faith of an entire community, if that's what you mean by 'brilliant'." The visual quality of the film is roughened by large patches of grainy and black-and-white flashbacks — the gritty reality of inner-city Chicago is quite rough enough already — and the priest's flirtation with the nominated saint's estranged and nonbelieving daughter (Anne Heche, a bundle of unchannelled energy) is a tasteless and tittery convention that got tired as far back as Bing Crosby and Ingrid Bergman in The Bells of St. Mary's. But the work of the "postulator," as we learn to call him, although hardly likely to inspire a sequel or a spinoff TV series, is studded with engrossing procedural detail and bits of Church lore. And — after he unexpectedly opts to advance the case to the Vatican — his showdown with the appointed Devil's Advocate, a bullying archbishop imported from abroad (Armin Mueller-Stahl), promises a climax of polemical fireworks. What it ultimately delivers, in addition to the fireworks, is a revelation as whopping and unswallowable as anything you ever saw on Perry Mason. Depending, perhaps, on your level of faith. Directed by Agnieszka Holland. 1999.
- Rated R