“Is Heaven a hope? Or as real as the earth and sky?”
Though not a film everyone will like, Heaven Is for Real is a perfectly respectable story that does exactly what it sets out to do from these first few words of narration. An unflinchingly Christian story, the film is based on the New York Times bestselling book, Heaven is for Real: A Little Boy’s Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back, by Todd Burpo and Lynn Vincent.
It is a true story of a Nebraska minister and his family as they face several struggles in their lives, culminating in their four year-old son Colton’s brush with death. When Colton (played by newcomer Connor Corum) recovers from his illness, he starts surprising the family with incredible accounts of his trip to Heaven, meeting Jesus, and learning things he could not possibly have known before. Therein lies a new challenge, as the family, and particularly the father, Todd (Greg Kinnear), face ridicule and opposition from the community and doubt within themselves.
Heaven Is for Real is a story about a little boy’s trip to Heaven, but focuses mostly on Todd’s inner conflict with what is real and true. Kinnear assumes the character of the deeply troubled pastor with ease, brilliantly helping the audience grasp the frustration and fear Todd feels. Where some of the acting from other characters feels at times stilted and staged, Kinnear shines through, being both likable and relatable.
Everything about the film is simply and neatly done. The shots are clean and crisp, the editing seamless, the dialogue easy to follow with humor punctuating scenes in just the right slots. The emotion of the film is what sells it, and by all accounts, the boy’s experiences are both awesome and chilling.
Yet, one cannot help but feel that Heaven Is for Real is nothing extraordinary. There is nothing unexpected. It feels a little too precise and a little too staged to really sink your teeth into. Questions of faith are nothing to be trivialized, and director/writer Randall Wallace (Secretariat, We Were Soldiers) is no stranger to depicting stories of this nature, and doing it well. Yet, at times it seems like this film is almost telling you what to feel, and when.
Heaven Is for Real is a moving account of the faith of a child tainted by the doubt of the world. In this film, the struggle of the Burpo family is well represented, and audiences will certainly feel a deep empathy for them in watching their story unfold on the big screen. Sadly, though, it may not resonate for long.
Director: Randall Wallace
Writers: Randall Wallace, Chris Parker, Todd Burpo, Lynn Vincent
Starring: Greg Kinnear, Kelly Reilly, Thomas Haden Church, Connor Corum, Margo Martindale
Release Date: Apr. 16, 2014