Technical assessment: 3
Moral assessment: 4
CINEMA rating: VA
MTRCB rating: G
DIRECTOR: Randall Wallace LEAD CAST: Greg Kinnear, Kelly Reilly, Connor Corum, Lane Styles, Margo Martindale, Thomas Haden Church, SCREENWRITER: Chris Parker (adaptation from the book Heaven is for Real) PRODUCER: Joe Roth, T.D. Jakes MUSICAL DIRECTOR: Nick Glennie-Smith CINEMATOGRAPHER: Dean Semier GENRE: Drama DISTRIBUTOR: Sony Pictures Entertainment LOCATION: United States RUNNING TIME: 100 minutes
In Imperial Nebraska, bills never seem to end for Todd and Sonja Burpo (Greg Kinnear and Kely Reilly), parents of 10-year-old Cassie (Lane Styles) and four-year-old Colton (Connor Corum). Todd is a well-liked pastor at the Crossroads Wesleyan Church but his main source of income is his work as an electrical repairman; Sonja is a full-time housewife and choirmaster. They’re deep in debts and when Todd gets hospitalized for a broken leg and kidney stones, the situation seems to swallow them like quicksand. As if it weren’t bad enough, their son suffers a ruptured appendix, calling for surgery and causing more hospital bills. Life seems to turn for the worst when Colton, recovering against the odds, starts telling his parents stories of going to heaven, seeing Jesus and angels singing to him while he was under surgery, meeting long-dead relatives he never met. The stories attract the press, disturbing some parishioners who feel that their church is turning into a circus. The financial and emotional burden adversely affects Todd’s preaching, further upsetting the community’s skeptics who move to have him replaced as its pastor.
In this fact-based drama adapted from New York Times bestseller “Heaven is for Real”, heaven unfolds through the eyes of a child, which the CGI aptly supports: heaven is a place of light and beauty among the clouds but is located somewhere beyond the sacristy; angels are ethereal winged beings of light with such delightful laughter; Jesus sports a beard, bushy eyebrows, and “greenish blue eyes”. Also, Colton says nobody wears eyeglasses in heaven, and “everybody’s young there”. Semler’s cinematography happily brings out the charm of the Midwestern farm country, and blended with the sensible CGI makes for a realistic setting for the theme. Minus some melodramatic moments that could be taken as the natural outcome of the characters’ incredulity, the movie is well-acted, effectively bringing out the crisscrossing viewpoints surrounding the question of near death experience. A big factor contributing to the accessibility of Heaven is for real is its casting—had it used big name stars it would have been a flop. It’s the ordinary-people quality of the actors that works for the credibility of the story. Colton’s actor, the adorable 6-year-old Corum, is born for the role.
The mature handling of a sensitive issue—the existence of an afterlife—makes Heaven is for real an effective tool of faith-examination without off-putting preachiness. It considers heaven but also focuses on relationships on earth: father-son bonding, strong sibling ties, a tenacious marriage that won’t be shattered by crisis. The little boy asks his father “They don’t believe me, do they?” but goes on guilelessly telling his stories. He is right, almost everybody tends to dismiss his experience as little boy’s tales, including his mother who, at breaking point over Todd’s obsession with their son’s experience, yells at her husband that everything the boy says is nothing but “an echo” of the environment he grew up in. But again heaven asserts itself when Colton softly tells his mom that (in heaven) “I saw my sister who died in your tummy without a name”. “How could he have known that?”, a bewildered Sonja asks Todd. Heaven is for real is a movie that crosses denominational boundaries because the desire for an afterlife is almost universal, touching people of all cultures or civilizations. It is a hope-giving statement that echoes the bible’s Psalm 8 “Out of the mouth of babes and infants You have drawn a defense against Your foes, to silence enemy and avenger.”