Heaven is for Real Review
A FILM ADAPTION MEANT
FOR THE SMALL (NOT BIG) SCREEN
Does Heaven exist? Do you believe in it? Is there life beyond the one we live in now? Such religious philosophical questions are asked constantly and are answered with mixed view points; a touchy subject that seems eternally debatable between the faithfully and secular establishments. One particular story has sparked interest of millions of viewers in the form of young boy (Colton Burpo) who as claimed to travel to Heaven and back. His account was documented in a book titled “Heaven is for Real: A Little Boy’s Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back” (which became a bestselling book) and has become an inspiration for many. Sony Pictures and director Randall Wallace now take Colton’s story to the big screen with the film Heaven is for Real. Does this cinematic undertaking make you believe in a young boy’s vision of Heaven or is a farfetched idea that many audiences members will shun?
Garage Installer, volunteer firefighter, high school wrestling coach, and local pastor, family man Todd Burpo (Greg Kinnear) is truly a jack-of-all trades. Though his various jobs and responsibilities keep him busy and beloved by many in his community, Todd is barely keeping his family afloat financially. Things take a dark turn for the Burpo family when Todd’s four-year-old son Colton (Connor Corum) falls fatally ill with appendicitis; hospitalizing the child and testing Todd’s and his wife Sonya’s (Kelly Reilly) courage and faith. Fortunately, Colton comes out of the ordeal (Alive), but mentioning to his parents of how he went to Heaven; meeting with Jesus and seeing angels. At first, Todd and Sonya dismiss their son’s account of journeying to Heaven as part of Colton’s imagination, but Todd begins to ask Colton about his experience; slowly starting to believe in his son’s story as a possible reality. Todd watches as his son’s tale draws attention all over town and casting concerns and ire from local partitioners of Todd’s church who fear his Colton’s outlandish account will have a negative impact upon their religious congregation.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
Given the controversial nature that usually surround religious films, director Randall Wallace, famous for screenwriting Braveheart and directing We Were Soldiers and Secretariat, seems to walk a fine line with Heaven is for Real; playing it safe with its religious overtones and agendas. The subject matter is, of course, there and goes without saying a crucial part of the movie’s narrative, but not so much that it preaches “Bible” rhetoric nor does it deliberately denounces the faithfully. Like some of the characters in the movie, some choose to believe in Heaven (or some form of afterlife, while others don’t (believe in a one life), and some believe in something else altogether. All points, I believe, are valid. “What matters is what you believe” is the movie’s heartfelt message that’s both poignant fundamental to everyone and, at the end of the day, that’s all that really matters.
Greg Kinnear does fine job portraying Todd Burpo. Personally, I think he’s an undervalued actor; flying below the radar amongst the powerhouse “A” list actors of Hollywood, which sad because he’s a talented individual. He’s very likeable and earnest in his character of Todd; making viewers feel for the man who’s burdened with financial woes and family matters. It’s also interesting to see a man of the cloth who isn’t a pious intellect person, but rather a somewhat “Average Joe” local family man with questions about his own religious faith. Who also makes a profound mark on the film is newcomer Connor Corum in the role of Colton Burpo. He’s quiet, soft spoken, childishly adorable, and, unlike a lot of other newly discovered child actors, doesn’t seem to try way too hard when it comes to acting; playing Colton in a very natural way. Other notable cast members include the always talented Margo Martindale as Nancy and the docile Thomas Haden Church as Jay; both local partitioners in Todd’s church.
As cinematography goes, Wallace does a good job capturing that small town feel of the Midwest where everyone knows your name with crisp shots and colorful palettes. Heaven is for Real surprisingly has pockets of comedic foil. I wouldn’t say it’s from a witty screenplay with laugh-out-loud comedy, but rather from the performances of the actors that will make you have a good chuckle here and there.
As powerful and thought-provoking as Colton’s experience is in real life, the film doesn’t quite measure up to cinematic notoriety. I’m not saying that Heaven is for Real was a bad movie (its actually interested me enough to read the book), it just doesn’t seem enticing or dramatic enough to be given a theatrical release. This is where the term “Poetic License” might of coming in handy and possibly strengthened the movie in an attempt to reach cinematic potential. In truth, the film should’ve been (and plays out) in the fashion of a movie that was made for television; one that you would expect to find on such broadcasted channels as Lifetime or ABC Family. Its good at some points, a little teary eyed at others, and a tad cheesy here and there, so if you can’t frame your mind into that TV movie structural pattern, then Heaven is for Real may not be your cup of tea. What also chips away at the film is that the subplots that the movie presents. Some are straightforward and are wrapped up by the time the credits begin to roll, but some simply feel a little disjointed with vague notions and ideals that are never fully fleshed out as if their inclusion were an afterthought. One example of such fractured teases is a Lithuanian girl who shares a similar experience with Colton. Her appearance, which bookends the front and back of the movie, seems a little unnecessary; warranting unfinished business as it would’ve been more interesting to know more about who she is and her heavenly experience rather than a sort of cameo placement in the film.
Lastly, the movie incorporates dreamy-like scenes of what Colton saw when he went to Heaven. Though the idea is there, it comes off a little “Hokey” and “Cheesy” with low budgeted special effects depicting of angels, blissful cerulean skies with puffy white clouds, and brief cameo appearance of Jesus. Even if the film had the budget of a summer blockbuster and employed a well-known visual effects company (WETA Digital or Industrial, Light & Magic) for the film’s imagery, it still wouldn’t be as favorable as the filmmakers intended. In this case, as the saying goes, “Some things are best left to the imagination” (which I and probably a few others would agree on).
It goes without saying that book Heaven is for Real has touched and inspired the lives of millions; drawing upon its strength and beliefs in unprecedented ways. The film Heaven is for Real still carries the heart of the book, but doesn’t reach its intended cinematic goal. Wallace plays it safe with a movie that doesn’t overly preach nor offends the catholic faith; offering a good wholesome family fanfare to its credit. Those who read the book or those with strong catholic beliefs will appeal to this movie, while others might simply dismiss it. For me, it was a fairly okay movie that felt more like a “Made for TV” movie rather than a theatrical feature film. Regardless, its emotional integrity and heartfelt message are still there as well as two notable lead performances making Heaven is for Real a solid and favorable choice as a rental.