Director Agnieszka Holland is a practicing Catholic. When she read the screenplay she was deeply touched because it took faith seriously. She says that the protagonist, Frank Shore is struggling, "as I am struggling," to have faith in today's world, with so many problems, suffering, materialism, etc. She also was fascinated with other questions. What does it mean to be a saint? What kind of saint does the church need today? What does the Catholic Church mean to people today? Thus, one of her motivatoins for making the film was to portray issues of faith and religion in a positive and compelling way. She decided this would not be possible unless she could get Ed Harris, with whom she had worked before, to play the part of Frank Shore. She sent him the script, and he liked it. They both felt that portrayin the story was the "occasion to spend several months of our lives going through some kind of spiritual journey."About The Third Miracle, which starred Ed Harris. From: Barsotti and Johnston, page 239-241:
...A film about the Catholic Church and its workings necessarily includes lots of priests. Holland tries to have the variouis characters represent the different faces of the church--political, pastoral, economic, spiritual. She did not want a one-dimensional, stereotypical portrayal of the church. Holland also included some of her own life in the characters. For example, the name Father Paul Panak, the priest at St. Stanislaus Church where Helen O'Regan had worshipped, came from the name of Holland's childhood nanny, Paulina Panak.
The Third Miracle... Set in Chicago in 1979, the movie tells the story of a Catholic priest, Frank Shore, who has left his church assignment and is living in a hotel for transients and eating at a soup kitchen with a cross-section of society's rejected. Father Frank was a postulator, a priest assigned by the church hierarchy to investigate claims of miracles and sainthood. In the process of having to disprove a man's supposed heroic virtue, Frnak also destroyed the faith of a whole parish that had come to believe in the miracles of this man. Frank's church superiors were pleased he had exposed such superstition for what it was, but the weight of destroying the since faith of ordinary people causes Frank to question his own.
When the church comes calling again, Frank is compelled not only to investigate the fiath and good works of another possible saint but his own as well. The movie thus becomes both a spiritual pilgrimage and a detective story, with a romance thrown in to boot.
Ed Harris, who plays Frank Shore, is utterly convincing in his portrayal. Cursed by skepticism, hounded by his superiors, and tempted by sex, he refuses to succumb, instead choosing to be faithful to God and his church. And the temptations are real. The chemistry between Frank and Roxanne (Anne Heche) is almost combustible. The concern of his superiors for the church to be thought of as modern and appropriately unsuperstitious is intimidating. And the tragic events surrounding his own call to ministry would challenge the faith of most of us. We agonize with Frank and his sense of struggle. We also celebrate with him.
For someone to be beautified in the Catholic Church in the 1970s, canon law required that the person be pure and that three miracles occur as a result of his or her life and ministry. As the story unfolds, and it is a good one, there are indeed two miracles that become documented. It is not clear, however, what the third miracle is. Maybe it is the miracle of faith itself--a faith that is reborn in Frank and a faith that will be strengthened in moviegoers as well.