HEAVEN IS FOR REAL
*** (out of 5)
April 16, 2014
Greg Kinnear as TODD BURPO
Kelly Reilly as SONJA BURPO
Thomas Haden Church as JAY WILKINS
Connor Corum as COLTON BURPO
Lane Styles as CASSIE BURPO
Margo Martindale as NANCY RAWLING
Studio: TriStar Pictures
Directed by: Randall Wallace
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
Contrary to popular belief, Hollywood does not shy away from faith-based movies. If it did, we wouldn’t have seen movies like “Ben Hur” or “The Ten Commandments” released in the past. We wouldn’t have seen a slate of films released under the Fox Faith banner, including “The Ultimate Gift” and “Saving Sarah Cain.” We wouldn’t have seen productions from outside of the Hollywood system like “The Passion of the Christ” or “Fireproof” get picked up by distributors and sold to the general public.
The real truth behind faith-based filmmaking in America is that Hollywood is happy to distribute them so long as there is a market for them. Christians’ money is as green as Marvel fanboys’. Movies in the mainstream is about making money, which may not be the most Christian of ideals, but it serves as a reality for audiences who like faith-based movies to find them.
Specifically, 2014 has been a banner year for faith-based movies. Things started off early at the onset of Lent with “Son of God,” the re-edited Christ story for the TV miniseries “The Bible.” It happened again with “Noah,” which was not without controversy but still has its basis in scripture, making a splash worldwide and ranking as the highest-grossing film from director Darren Aronofsky. At the same time, the cinematic rebuttal to atheism “God’s Not Dead” did solid business at the box office.
“Heaven Is for Real” will either continue the trend or show signs of fatigue by its audience who has had a steady diet of faith-based films this year. Sadly, I fear the latter, which happens to any over-exploited audience. That would be a shame because, aside from the first half spectacle and out-of-the-box thinking of “Noah,” “Heaven Is for Real” is probably the best of this bunch.
The story follows the true story of the Burpo family whose son has a near-death experience on the operating table. After he recovers, he tells his father Todd (Greg Kinnear) about his experience, which included seeing angels in Heaven and meeting Jesus himself. At first, Todd (who happens to be the pastor of a church in a small town) dismisses this as fantasy, but soon the stories from his son offer insight the child would not know. Todd and his family must come to terms with this apparent miraculous event and how it impacts their personal lives and that of the church.
For someone like me, who has four boys at home, I was a sucker for the set-up of this movie. In fact, my youngest son Nick, who turns six this spring, had an operation earlier in the year. I could relate more than some to the worries the parents felt while their son was being attended to by doctors. There’s a level of not knowing that can destroy a parent inside. Even if the child comes out unscathed (as mine did, thankfully), it’s a rough time emotionally.
So, I suppose I was predisposed to feel for the Burpo family in this film. That has nothing to do with the faith angle of the film, of course, but that’s my perspective and why it hit home for me.
Still, the religious angle is not pushy or obnoxious in this film. Even though this movie has a similar declarative title to “God’s Not Dead,” it’s less about proving a point and more about finding ways to cope with ourselves when our faith is challenged. And that challenge to faith can come in the form outside of direct religion. This isn’t a movie meant to convince people that it’s title is, no pun intended, God’s honest truth. Instead, it shows how families and communities can work together to reconcile beliefs and spirituality.
I’m not saying that atheists and non-Christians should run out and see this movie, as it is clearly a Christian-based film. However, I am saying that outside of the direct focus of the religion, there’s something to be taken away by anyone who views it.
There are rough moments in the film, including the sometimes aggressive friction that occurs within the church itself. However, knowing what it’s like to grow up in a church and having two close friends who are pastors, I understand that church politics can be unpleasant and cutting. The conflicts in the film seem forced at times, which might be more organic when presented in the story’s original form in print. However, these are excusable problems for the monumental questions this movie is trying to tackle.
Christians and the modern faith-based audience should love this movie, and as long as they aren’t burned out or tapped out from too many visits to the secular movie theater, it should do fine. Even if it doesn’t, it’s a good, wholesome movie that a wide audience can enjoy if they can get past the somewhat pushy and overly evangelical title.