Films

Rumours of redemption

Brian D. Johnson March 6 2000
Films

Rumours of redemption

Brian D. Johnson March 6 2000

Rumours of redemption

Films

Wayward souls in two movies undergo tests of faith

Brian D. Johnson

A Hollywood backlash

against shooting movies in Canada has been cited as one reason that The Hurricane was all but shut out of the Oscar race.

To the thousands of American Academy members worried about losing jobs to Canadian film crews, the symbolism of seeing a band of heroic Canucks rescue a black American from prison must have been galling.

But when the CN Tower pops up in The Hurricane, at least there’s a reason for it: Toronto is part of the story. In A Map of the World and The Third Miracle, the city is just a low-cost location.

Both are modest, middle-brow movies based on American novels, both are set in and around Chicago—and both were filmed in and around Toronto.

The location is not obvious in

A Map of the World. But The Third Miracle has a scene shot in front of Toronto City Hall in which the Archer, Henry Moore’s famous sculpture, serves as a prominent centrepiece. Does no one care that millions of potential movie-goers in Canada will immediately be reminded that they’re not in Chicago? The equivalent would be to frame a scene in front of Chicago’s Sears Tower and try to pass it off as a Toronto office building. Suspending disbelief is an act of faith that needs all the help it can get. And, coincidentally, A Map of the World and The Third Miracle are both dramas about faith, about characters who have lost it and are trying to get it back.

Based on Jane Hamilton’s best-seller, A Map of the World is a conventional but engrossing family drama, starring Sigourney Weaver as Alice Goodwin, a farm mother and school nurse who suffers a

double calamity. First, while she’s babysitting her friend’s two small children, one of them wanders off and drowns in the farm’s pond. A few days later, with Alice consumed by depression and guilt, the police show up to arrest her on trumpedup charges of sexually abusing a young boy at the school where she works. Getting thrown in jail makes Alice strangely giddy. She’s happy to be locked up even if it’s for something she didn’t do. And as Alice awaits trial behind bars, this stressed -out working mother finally has some time for herself. Time to read books, time to have a nervous breakdown, time to get real with some tough young black chicks —Mom Interrrupted.

Flashing from prickly to vulnerable, Sigourney Weaver is impressive in a role that allows her more range than usual. And it’s refreshing to see a 50-year-old ac-

tress appear bluntly naked, emotionally and physically. But as Alice powers her way to a tidy redemption, she tends to overwhelm the other characters. David Strathairn soldiers through an underwritten role as the weak husband; there is never quite enough of Julianne Moore as Theresa, the mother of the drowned daughter who takes him under her wing; and Chloë Sevigny barely has a speaking part as the sluttish parent who files the abuse charge. Marking the feature debut of stage director Scott Elliott, A Map of the World allows Weaver to reign over uncharted terrain as a woman under suspicion of being a “bad mother,” but the world that surrounds her seems to have been drawn on a different scale.

In The Third Miracle, a more experienced filmmaker, Polands Agnieszka Holland {Europa, Europa), directs Ed Harris in the role of a lapsed priest who undergoes a test of faith. He plays Father Frank, a spiritual detective who is hired by the Roman Catholic Church to investigate alleged miracles. Assigned to check out the prospective sainthood of a deceased immigrant in Chicago (Barbara Sukowa) connected to a statue of the virgin that weeps blood, he falls in love with the womans no-nonsense daughter (Anne Heche).

Based on the novel by Richard Vetere, The Third Miracle is grounded in some fascinating details of Roman Catholic politics. We learn the arcane legalities of canonization. And the story proceeds as a whodunit, climaxing in a kind of courtroom drama that features a summit of gargoyle-like clerics in red robes, with Armin MuellerStahl cast as a European archbishop who plays the devil’s advocate.

The religion has its points of interest, but the romance, as played out between Harris and Heche, feels bogus. Unlike other films about the struggle between love and faith—from Priest to The End of the Affair—this one offers no real contest. Besides, for a Canadian, it’s hard to worry about the authenticity of a statue bawling blood when the next minute you’re looking at a Toronto sculpture that, by some miracle, has ended up in Chicago.