"Heaven is for Real" is a rare mainstream film in these increasingly materialistic times. The timing for its theatrical release right on the feast of Easter is perfect.
The story is based on true events, as related in a best-selling 2010 book of the same title, written by its main character, Todd Burpo, a hard-working Christian pastor who lives and serves in a small town in Nebraska with his young wife Sonja and two small kids, Cassie and Colton.
One day, four-year old Colton survives a very critical illness. Upon full recovery, Colton begins to relate that he has been to heaven and actually sat on Jesus' lap. When the public gets wind of these stories though, they were met with derision and disdain. Todd had to conquer his own personal doubts, on top of his growing financial woes, familial stress and professional credibility.
The cast is effectively led by Greg Kinnear as Todd and Kelly Reilly as his wife. Kinnear delivers a touching performance of the good pastor who has to face the doubting public as he grapples with his own personal and spiritual issues.
Creditable supporting work were provided by Thomas Haden Church and Margo Martindale as neighbors and close friends of the Burpo family. I am sure everyone will be totally charmed and enchanted by the adorable little Connor Corum as Colton. His very natural and unaffected performance makes the whole film work.
The title and its trailer does not hide what this movie is all about. This film is about a matter of Christian religious faith thus defining its target audience. This Christian virtue of faith is about accepting mysteries and miracles which could not be proven or explained by the limits of human intelligence. As it was depicted in the film, this type of topic will be met with a lot of negative skepticism, especially that it is about the son of a poor Christian pastor who wrote the book on which this film is based. There will always be those who feel that there is a burden of proof on the believer. But of course, believers will feel that they do not need to prove anything since their faith alone suffices.
For me, I thought this film succeeded in inspiring people to reflect on their own lives, as well as on their lives after death. I do not think this is necessarily only for the Christian faithful, but it can be for everyone whose mind is open to ideas of a spiritual aspect in human existence.
The cinematic elements of cinematography, editing, production design and musical score may have been simple, but the delivery of its message is nevertheless emotionally powerful. Despite some small logical lapses in story-telling, this film by director Randall Wallace remains poignant and thought-provoking, without being too overtly sentimental or dogmatic.
The MTRCB rated this G, but I thought this is more of PG territory as many of the film's discussions about life and death, scenes of dying, as well as occasional light naughty humor, may not be appropriate for very young children. 7/10
This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."