Heaven is for Real

Heaven is for Real

Director: Randall Wallace

Writers: Todd Burpo, Chris Parker, Lynn Vincent, Randall Wallace

Cast: Greg Kinnear, Kelly Reilly, Thomas Haden Church, Connor Corum, Lane Styles, Margo Martindale, Jacob Vargas, Thanya Romero, Danso Gordon, Rob Moran, Nancy Sorel, Darcy Fehr, Vivian Winther, Pete Hudson, Ursula Clark

Synopsis: A small-town father must find the courage and conviction to share his son's extraordinary, life-changing experience with the world.

MPAA Rating: Rated PG thematic material including some medical situations

Stevennix2001's Rating

6.0 / 10

Pros:


- Great acting performances

- Great cinematography

- Solid script

- Interesting concepts about the difference between believing in something, and merely saying it for the sake of wanting to believe in something.

Cons:


- Todd Burpo gets the last word in every argument that he has in this movie

- Overly preachy to the point that it almost ruins the movie

- Heaven setting seems a bit uninspired

-- The ending falls into almost every cliche in the book.

Greg Kinnear's first pro religious film since "Dear God"

Wow, another Gregg Kinnear movie. It seems like it was only yesterday that he used to be the host of the "Late Late Show" on CBS, and now he's doing pro religious movies like "Heaven is for Real." Um...cool?.... Before I begin my review, I should point out a few things for all my readers to understand.

First of all, this review should not be taken as my own personal thoughts on religion, or the concept of god in general. Therefore, any opinions that I have towards the movie should not be interpreted as any criticism against religion in general. Secondly, I'm not going to divulge what my thoughts are on near death experiences either, as that's irrelevant in reviewing this movie. As all my readers know, I try to keep an open mind about all films that I review, so please keep in mind that any criticism that I have towards "Heaven is for Real" is towards the film itself. Nothing more or less. Having said all that, let's get started.

Based on a true story. Todd Burpo (Greg Kinnear) works as a preacher in a small town community, while doing other various jobs like working at a factory, and he eventually becomes a fire fighter as well. Although he preaches every Sunday at a church, he's not exactly sure about his own faith as one would like to believe. Throughout the film, he asks himself questions that most agnostic people would ask themselves like, "Is there a god?" If heaven is real, then why can't I prove it? And if there's truly a god out there, then why doesn't he speak to me? You know. The same bulls*** questions you find most protagonists ask in these kind of movies.

However, all this changes one day when his son, Colton (Connor Corum), suffers a near death experience. The doctors thought he wouldn't make it, but he miraculously pulls through. Praise the lord! But, it seems that Colton had an outer body experience, during his operation. Colton not only saw his father cussing out god in a closed church, during the operation because he was scared of losing his son, but he also claims to have seen heaven as well.

In this magical paradise, everyone is young; unless your unborn baby. Nah,if you're unborn baby, then you're alive in heaven as a five year old nameless child. Although that must suck not having a name...I mean how would you address someone with no name? Do you just say something like "Hey YOU" or whatever. Anyway, heaven is portrayed exactly like you'd expect; which sadly means you get the overly simplified generic version of it. You know, the angels with the pretty wings, and Jesus riding on top of a horse. Oh wait, that's not part of the stereotype about heaven in these pro religious films, but you get the general idea.

Not saying that's a bad thing, as you can't avoid portraying some of the stereotypes, when you're depicting an image of heaven, but it would've been nice to have seen some originality other than what you'd see from a Hallmark card or something.

Moving on, Colton tells his father exactly what he saw, and Todd doesn't know what to make of it. On the one hand, he firmly wants to believe that Colton might have imagined all of this, as he even mentions how knows near death experiences can be misleading; in regards to what they actually see.

But on the other hand, Todd thinks that god might be trying to speak to him through Colton. This puts Todd in awkward situation, as it even affects his ability to preach at his church. Many of the people that help run the church are contemplating throwing Todd out because they're scared of what Colton's near death experience could truly mean. One of them even admits that religion is something to establish morals, but they never actually believed in the concepts of heaven and god actually existing.

This really begs the question...when a person says they believe in something, do they just say it in hopes that eventually they'll start to believe it? Or do they actually believe in what they're saying? It's an interesting concept to think about, and this film could've delivered on it nicely.

On the surface, "Heaven is for Real" has all the makings of being a great movie. It has great acting. Great cinematography. An excellent script, and some very deep characters. Regardless of what you're viewpoints on religion happens to be, you still feel a lot of sympathy for these characters, and you'll genuinely buy into the hardships that these people go through.

During the scene where Todd cusses out god because he's scared of losing his son, you can genuinely feel what he's going through, as none of the emotional moments ever feel forced. And to be quite honest, I love the concept of Todd questioning whether or not god exists. Plus, it's an interesting concept to explore the difference between saying you believe in something in hopes that you'll believe in it someday, and actually believing in what you're saying to be true. It's an interesting concept that i wish would've been explored more in this film, but sadly it doesn't.

Instead, we're treated to a film that's highly preachy to the point that unless your a religious person yourself, then chances are you're not going to like this movie. It's kind of sad because there was a lot of wasted potential here, but it never adds up.

Not to mention, this film falls into almost every cliche you can think of around the end. If you've seen "Angels in the Outfield", the original "Miracle on 34th Street", and "Oh God!", then you'll have a pretty clear idea on how this movie plays out; which is a crying shame because the first two thirds of the film was actually set up pretty well.

Another gripe that I have about this movie is the fact that Todd gets the last word on almost every argument that he has. Don't get me wrong, the film itself does a great job humanizing his character, but it seems like he always gets the last word in every conversation that it feels a bit contrived at times.

For example, he tries to talk to psychiatrist, who happens to be an Atheist, because he's looking for a more logical reason to explain Colton's near death experience. After their long winded conversation, the psychiatrist asks about whether the conversation was really about his uncertainty about his own faith, which was true at that point in the movie. At the beginning when they talked, he wasn't even sure about his own faith, and it would've been a nice jumping off point for the rest of the film. Because after that meeting, he goes on questioning not only whether or not what Colton saw was real, but he also debates himself about his own doubts about religion and god in general. It would've been fine, but nope. "Heaven is for Real" couldn't leave well enough alone.

Instead of the shrink ending the conversation on that note, Todd chimes in saying some crap like, "Well what if something extraordinary happens to where no other logical theory could explain it, then what?" Now, from watching that scene, I can see what the Randall Wallace was trying to do with this movie, as it was clearly obvious he wanted to make this film about a man regaining his faith back in god again because of what his son went through. I get that, but the only problem is he overloads the film with too much pretentious pro religious themes that it almost ruins what could've been a great movie.

Having said all that, I don't think "Heaven is for Real" is necessarily a bad movie per say, but it leaves a lot to be desired. If you're one of these people that's unsure whether you want to see this movie or not, then I'll simply put it like this. If you're a religious person, then you're probably going to love it. But if you're not a religious person, then you might find this movie overly preachy, and a bit contrived in some areas.

© 2014 Steven Escareno

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