Mark Reviews Movies

Heaven Is for Real


2 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Randall Wallace

Cast: Greg Kinnear, Kelly Reilly, Connor Corum, Thomas Haden Church, Margo Martindale, Lane Styles

MPAA Rating: PG (for thematic material including some medical situations)

Running Time: 1:40

Release Date: 4/16/14

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Review by Mark Dujsik | April 17, 2014

Here is a strange movie about people of faith who seem to have a difficult time grasping one of the key tenets of their faith. Heaven Is for Real loads the scenario in such a way that the thesis of its title is barely open to debate, and even then, these characters, who should be more than inclined to buy into the evidence at hand, have great doubts.

It's nice to see a movie with a religious agenda actually spend a lot of time confronting such questions, but those doubts seem to be forced upon these characters for the sole purpose of conflict. It never makes any sense that these characters would take the events of the movie as anything other than evidence that their beliefs are correct. These people clearly aren't skeptics, but the screenplay by director Randall Wallace and Christopher Parker (based on the book by Todd Burpo and Lynn Vincent) turns them into insecure, uncertain cynics. It's odd: The movie's head is in the right place, but that clashes with where its heart ultimately leads.

The story follows the Burpo family, led by Todd (Greg Kinnear), the pastor of a local church, and his wife Sonja (Kelly Reilly). When their son Colton (Connor Corum) becomes ill with a ruptured appendix, he undergoes emergency surgery, which the doctors don't anticipate will turn out well. The entire town prays for the boy, and Todd yells at God in the hospital chapel for the possibility of his son dying. When he makes what the doctors dub a "miraculous" recovery, Colton comes out of the experience with a story about visiting Heaven, where he saw angels, Jesus, and deceased family members he never met.

Todd tries to figure out a rational explanation. When the pastor begins bringing up the story in church, everyone starts to become uncomfortable—not with his attempts to debunk his son's story but with the story itself. "It sounds like a fairy tale," one of the members of Todd's congregation says, which is odd, given that Colton's vision/visit complies with a pretty common perception of what Heaven would be. If they really have a problem with Colton's story, it would seem they have much deeper concerns with the nature of their religious faith than just a little boy's story. If the movie is suggesting that these people philosophically and theologically inclined to believe something other than Colton's version of Heaven, the alternatives never arise.

They doubt because, if they didn't, there would be no story other than the most obvious one, which doesn't possess much in the way of drama (Unless one wants to actually get into a sincere discussion of what an afterlife would be like—a debate that this movie has no genuine interest in exploring). Instead, Heaven Is for Real engages in dramatic dishonesty as a way to bolster its argument, which amounts to: If these doubters can believe, then shouldn't everyone else and in exactly the same way?

Copyright © 2014 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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