Director: Randall Wallace
Starring: Greg Kinnear, Kelly Reilly, Thomas Hayden Church, Margo Martindale, Connor Corum, Lane Styles
There seem to be quite a fair amount of faith based movies out in theaters right now. Between Noah, God’s Not Dead, Son of God, and now Heaven is for Real, there is a market for this genre as they seem to be doing well at the box office. I haven’t seen all of these movies, but they each seem to take a different approach and angle. Heaven is for Real is based on a remarkable true story that first caught people’s attention as a book by Todd Burpo recounting his son’s story.
The Burpo family lives in the kind of small Nebraska town where everyone knows each other and is willing to help each other out when in need. Todd Burpo (Kinnear) is the local pastor and a volunteer fireman, and his wife Sonja (Reilly) is a stay at home mom to their two kids, Cassie (Styles) and Colton (Corum). After a family trip to Denver, four year old Colton is rushed to the hospital due to a ruptured appendix. Their friends and other people in town gather for group prayers as Colton’s outlook looks grim. He survives the surgery and goes through a miraculous and unbelievable journey in the process.
When he starts to get his energy back up, Colton describes to his dad about his trip to heaven. The odd thing is that he never died while in surgery as his heart never stopped beating. Even as a man with a strong faith, Todd starts to question how any of this is even possible. Colton starts telling stories of seeing angels and how he met Jesus and sat on His lap. Todd starts to believe Colton when he starts opening up about meeting people like his great-grandfather and sister who died before she was born. Word spreads about Colton’s supposed trip to heaven after a reporter interviews them for the local newspaper.
Director Randall Wallace (Secretariat, We Were Soldiers) co-wrote the screenplay with Chris Parker. The film plays it far too safe and simple without delving into some of the meatier themes and questions it poses for the characters and its audience. There is a lack of tension and conflict throughout that really slows down the pacing of the movie. One of the odd angles the movie seems to spend so much time on is how broke the family is throughout their whole ordeal. Was Colton’s spiritual journey supposed to remind them that everything was going to be alright? For a pastor, Todd starts to have a crisis of faith when Colton starts recounting his time in heaven. The same thing happens with many of the townspeople who seem devoted to their religion, yet they have a hard time believing in Colton. The film could have delved more into the mixed emotional and spiritual responses these people have, yet we only get one insightful scene involving Todd and a few parishioners discussing why this subjects strikes a nerve inside them. The film also shies away from discussing any of the medical and scientific explanations for what happened to Colton during the surgery. There could have been thought-provoking opportunities to discuss the role faith has in people when science can’t be explained.
When you have spiritual films regarding any sort of divine intervention, you have to go in with a bit of an open mind that this story could actually be true. If you don't, you have a hard time connecting with the story. It’s up to a good director and a smart script to turn those skeptics into believers. If you don’t strive for that, you are essentially preaching to the choir. I can understand why good actors like Greg Kinnear (As Good As It Gets), Kelly Reilly (Flight), and Margo Martindale (August: Osage County) were interested in this story. Unfortunately, this film seems to only scratch the surface and misses many opportunities along the way. I’ve heard the book goes into far more detail, and I would be interested in reading it to see if it answers some of those questions the film glosses over.
Is it worth your trip to the movies? The film will appeal to many people, but it won’t win over any skeptics.
RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Ticket Stubs