Heaven Is for Real is – so far – my favourite recent faith-based flick in a year full of religion centric movies. It’s mild-mannered and shoots for attainable goals, which makes Randall Wallace’s movie all the more amiable. Another major plus is how there’s no preachy hidden agenda detailing the motivations of the movie. Religion serves as a prominent theme in Heaven Is for Real, but its only to add depth to the main struggles.
Heaven Is for Real is based on pastor Todd Burpo’s true story involving his four-year-old son Colton having a vision of the pearly gates and the bliss that awaits beyond them. The encounter happens during an operation on Colton’s burst appendix, but he remains breathing. He lies still in a closed off operating room, yet claims to have seen his father (played by Greg Kinnear) and his mother (played by Kelly Reilly) in tears and having their own heartbreaking moments.
With this new information, Todd doesn’t know how to comprehend this newfound knowledge. He gets frustrated with the man upstairs during Colton’s turmoil, but he doesn’t question his faith. He simply doesn’t know what to do with it. Is this a sign? Is it an event to share to his dependable Nebraskan community of followers?
The screenplay written by Wallace and Chris Parker doesn’t have many climaxes. It steadily maintains calmness. It fits the overall tone and personal complexities taking place in the film, but it’s a decision that may not bode well for people looking for that extra kick-in-the-pants. However, if you’re a movie goer looking for an easy watch, this is a film that uses sedation in its favour.
Heaven Is for Real is instead riveting through maintained performances and attractive cinematography. Kinnear is superb in this supervisory role. He adds necessary weight to moments that float on air, and ends up inspiring the other actors around him.
The younger cast, on the other hand, gets most of the hokey dialogue – including attempts to be funny. Newcomer Connor Corum looks the part as Colton, which suggests he was cast based on fictional genetics rather than his on-screen comfortability. He’s a cute kid, but he always appears to be solving a Rubik’s Cube while staring at the sun.
Heaven Is for Real’s easygoing demeanour does get fussy when melodrama is introduced, and Wallace doesn’t hold back from letting his sensitive score swell during the sadder scenes. But, what holds his film back from having a significant emotional impact is how it waffles during Burpo’s dilemma.
It’s a flaw that’s to be expected from a Hollywood movie dealing with religion and an extraordinary encounter. Heaven Is for Real has the ingredients to be a supernatural thriller, but you can’t link “supernatural” to religion. You’re bound to offend someone, and the last thing Wallace wants to do is upset his viewers. Especially the real life Burpos.
He toys around with the idea of taking Heaven Is for Real in that direction, but his timidness shows. So, while the film is effective and memorable, our ability to really get wrapped up in the story is on a short leash.