It is so refreshing to find a sincere, engaging, feel-good film these days that you're tempted to perhaps give it more praise then it deserves.
"Heaven Is For Real" is such a movie. Based on a bestselling book, it tells the true story of a four-year-old boy who must undergo emergency surgery and while under anesthesia experiences a series of visions including one of heaven.
Greg Kinnear, playing Todd Burpo, is a small-town preacher, happily married with two children, trying to make ends meet by running his own door repair business, delivering carpets, coaching the school's wrestling program and working as a volunteer fireman. He and his wife, Sonja, played by Kelly Reilly, are in a financial bind with big medical bills after he breaks a leg while playing softball and their son, Colton, played simply and innocently by Connor Corum, has to undergo an emergency appendectomy.
While being pushed on the family swing one day, Colton casually mentions to his dad how beautiful heaven is. Later he gets more specific about experiences that happened to him in the hospital. He was lifted up so he could see himself on the operating table. He saw his father get angry and question God's intent. The boy's recall becomes more and more specific. Finally, when Colton identifies a picture of his Grandfather who he never knew and a still born sister, of which he would have no knowledge, Todd and Sonja know that what they are hearing actually happened. But what to do about it? They try a psychiatrist to no avail and confide to a select group of church members but soon their future and that of the church are in jeopordy. They realize the possible effects of gossip and ridicule
Among the many attributes of the film are the underplayed performances by the principals. Kinnear really pulls it off and Reilly couldn't be better. Thanks to the fine performances by a wonderful supporting case, it's all quite believable. In particular, I must mention actress, Margo Martindale. She plays one of the church elders' who must decide how to handle the publicity when the story hits the newspapers. She plays a mother, still grieving a son lost in the war. She and Kinnear have a scene in the local cemetary that is a pivotal moment in the film as the discuss the concept of heaven and hell. Her performance is one to treasure. You know her from countless TV appearances. She was just in the film, "August: Osage County" and she was Sister Colleen, Susan Sarandon's fellow Nun in "Dead Man Walking".
Charles Parker has written a skillful script based on Todd Burpo's bestselling book and director Randall Wallace uses the camera well. To make point, at the end of a particular poignant or dramatic scene he often goes to a wide shot of the rolling countryside or the family car traveleing along a dusty road giving you a chance to let it all skink in. It's quite effective. Oh, by the way, it's supposed to be Nebraska but the exteriors were all shot in Winnipeg.
There are moments in Heaven Is For Real that test credibility, but they are few. This well meaning film will happily support your beliefs while the skeptics may scoff. But that's their problem.
Time: 100 minutes
Rating: PG for thematic material including medical situations.
Filed under: Movie Reviews