Not quite real enough
Atheists may wonder what in the (imaginary) hell is going on with all the Christian faith-promoting films hitting theaters lately. With “Son of God,” “Noah,” and “God is Not Dead” all doing at least decent box office business, the movies appear to be reaching the underserved faith-based market effectively.
Now, along comes “Heaven is for Real,” another film with strong religious undertones. Unfortunately, despite its earnest ambitions, “Heaven” gets bogged down by a clunky script and a lack of dramatic tension.
Greg Kinnear is his typically likeable self as Todd Burpo (upon whose book the true story is derived), a popular small town minister. Todd has a devoted wife, Sonja (a rather boring Kelly Reilly), a young daughter Cassie (Lane Styles), and four-year-old son Colton (cute-as-a-button Connor Corum). After recovering from an emergency (and life-threatening) appendectomy, Colton begins to recount events implying a “near-death” journey to the afterlife –including details that he could have never known on his own.
The crux of the story surfaces when Todd begins to question his own faith upon realizing Colton may indeed have visited heaven. If this sounds like a flimsy premise, it is. “Heaven is for Real” is content to play out Todd’s dilemma without really explaining why Todd‘s own faith is faltering, and why Colton’s experience is so controversial among other believers in Todd’s congregation. Little Connor Corum is so immediately believable that his visions seem hardly worth rejecting by believers – wouldn’t the opposite be true? “Heaven is for Real” doesn’t make a convincing case for a preacher’s soul searching – though there is plenty of room to examine such a dilemma.
There is also a lot of peripheral narrative that doesn’t seem to be of any consequence to the rest of the film, particularly in the first 30 minutes. The always engaging Thomas Haden Church is sorely underused as Todd’s banker friend – and he seems like the most interesting character in the film. Reliable character actress Margo Martindale gives a nicely restrained performance as a grieving mother of a fallen marine.
It hardly seems fair to totally blame director Randall Wallace (who with Burpo, Chris Parker, and Lynn Vincent also co-wrote the screenplay), but there is some of the same blandness here as there was in his previous film, Disney’s “Secretariat.”
Christians may shout hallelujah that faith-based films are arriving in theaters. But with “Heaven Is for Real” in particular, believers should pray for something better.