HEAVEN IS FOR REAL – Review by Susan Granger
Adapted from the best-selling non-fiction book, this story focuses on the bond between an affable Midwestern minister and his precocious four year-old son who insists that he went to Heaven, where angels sang and he visited with Jesus. Read on…
In the farming community of Imperial, Nebraska, popular Crossroads Wesleyan Church pastor Todd Burpo (Greg Kinnear) works as a repairman, high school wrestling coach and volunteer fireman. He and his wife Sonja (Kelly Reilly) have two children, Cassie (Lane Styles) and Colton (Connor Corum), and are constantly coping with the challenge of paying their bills. They’re deeper into debt after Todd breaks his leg and suffers painful kidney stones, followed by Connor’s ruptured appendix. But Todd’s belief is really tested when young Connor matter-of-factly describes going to heaven during his surgery. When the youngster adds details that cannot be explained rationally, Todd begins to question his own convictions, researching near-death experiences and consulting with a psychologist at a nearby college. His quest influences his sermons which, in turn, upset skeptical parishioners, like Nancy Rawling (Margo Martindale) and Jay Wilkins (Thomas Haden Church), particularly when the press becomes involved.
Adapted with subtly wry humor by director Randall Wallace (Braveheart) and co-writer Christopher Parker, it remains non-denominational/non-sectarian – for the most part – serving as an effective metaphor to raise provocative questions about the fundamental nature of faith and the almost universal desire for an afterlife. What elevates this above recent religious films like Son of God and God’s Not Dead are skillful production values: writing, directing, cinematography, editing, and, above all, acting.
It’s Greg Kinnear’s appealing Everyman that makes the premise believable. Cherubic Connor Corum’s portrayal seems guileless and natural, while Thomas Hayden Church satisfies as Todd’s friend/banker and Margo Martindale scores as an angry, bitter bereaved mother. The only distraction comes from an awkward framing device involving Akiane Kramarik, a young Lithuanian painter whose portrait of Jesus resembles a pop star.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, Heaven is for Real is a sensitive, spiritual 7 – recommended for family-viewing.