REVIEW: Family is greatest strength of 'Heaven Is for Real'

"Heaven Is for Real" is based on the true story of a 4-year-old Nebraska boy who, after major surgery, tells his father — a local minister — that he's been to heaven.
Apr 20, 2014

 

Although there are immediate doubts, people begin to accept the story when the youngster reveals information he only could have been given by those who died before he was born.

His tale is inspirational for some and draws the wrath of others, who call it all a fabrication. That becomes a major source of tension in the film.

This story is fodder for countless debates. What should not be overlooked is the strong story of how a family must — along with this big event — deal with the normal hardships of life.

Director Randall Wallace shows that the strength of a movie comes from a focus on family. Even when "Heaven” slips into theological mode, Wallace quickly pulls the attention back to how the family members deal with all that's being thrown at them.

Too often in movies, a man of the cloth is either portrayed as being all-knowing or having fallen from grace. Greg Kinnear's portrayal of Pastor Todd Burpo — the father of the young boy and the leader of the local church — is more human than most church leaders in film. He spends as much time worrying about the mortgage as he does preaching the Gospel.

It helps that Wallace gets an equally strong performance from Kelly Reilly as Sonja, the pastor's wife. Wallace doesn't sacrifice the paternal and maternal parts of the couple's lives in the name of their deep spiritual beliefs. Their financial struggles are very reflective of what's going on across the country, and that makes the movie more accessible to those who don't care as much about the spiritual aspects.

Wallace also manages to get a surprisingly good performance from 6-year-old Connor Corum. There's a very natural feel to the way the youngster acts in scenes that helps fortify the family story.

The film is not without flaws. The biggest mistake in the script by Wallace and Chris Parker is the decision to actually show on film what the youngster says he saw in heaven. No matter how reverent the approach, the depiction of angels comes across as a cheesy special effect. And the appearance by Jesus looks like the worst moments from a church Easter production.

More clarification would have helped, especially when it comes to how the boy's announcement shakes those who should have a rock-solid faith. All of this chips away at the solid family foundation on which Wallace had built his movie.

These aren't mortal sins. Wallace has created a movie that has a message that goes beyond preaching to the choir. That's when the work is at its best.

— By Rick Bentley, Fresno Bee (AP)

Comments

Harry Kovaire

I did not see the movie, but read the book a few years ago.

Halfway into it, I got the very creepy feeling that this little boy was manipulated by his father in a way that was psychologically abusive.

It was disappointing as I was curious and eager to read it.

ghmomma

They have A LOT of money now too. Great scam.....and legal too!

Liberty52

I read the book and felt the same way Harry Kovaire did. I've read many books re: life after death and truly enjoyed them, but I strongly felt the father had way too much influence on the thoughts of the little boy. I have no desire to see the movie.

Liberty52

I read the book and felt the same way Harry Kovaire did. I've read many books re: life after death and truly enjoyed them, but I strongly felt the father had way too much influence on the thoughts of the little boy. I have no desire to see the movie.

zwesterhouse

Read the book and watched the movie. They left some details of the book out. I can see why though - people would go nuts. Like part where the kid runs in front of a car and car just stops in nick of time and his parents flip out. Kid has an "oh well" attitude I'll just be with Jesus again. Can see why they edited that out of movie. And the part where the kid flips out when an elderly person dies on the hospital bed. The kid has a melt down because he can tell the guy didn't repent or did not have Christ in his life or something. The war he said is coming soon. Says there are swords hanging on walls in Heaven and he wasn't allowed to play with them. Says he seen the Dev at one time and the Holy Spirit who is just the color blue. The cinematography wasn't like Star Wars - but I can see why Hollywood wouldn't allocate any resources to a book like that. But one thing I really liked - when a person gets to Heaven they get to be a kid again and never grow old - I'll take it.

 

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