DIR: Randall Wallace • WRI: Randall Wallace, Chris Parker • PRO: T.D. Jakes, Sam Mercer, Joe Roth • ED: John Wright • DOP: Dean Semler • DES: Arvinder Grewal • MUS: Nick Glennie-Smith • CAST: Greg Kinnear, Kelly Reilly, Lane Styles
Cynics Beware!! We’re about to have an onslaught of “feel good” Christian movies. Why?? Heaven is For real has made a staggering 90 million dollars in the US Box Office from a 12-million-dollar budget. That kind of profit doesn’t go unnoticed. Heaven is for Real is a true story based on the bestselling book written by Todd Burpa, a Christian Minister from a small town in Nebraska. The film is based around the near death of Burpas’ son and the aftermath that ensues. His son is a 4 year old, named Colton, and his escape from death is attributed to the communal praying of Burpas’ congregation. Colton claims to have gone to Heaven while he was being operated on. Amazingly, Burpa believes his son as Colton is able to recall things that he couldn’t possibly have seen. His belief in his son’s story is the main source of conflict in the film. It causes friction between him and his wife and throws his own beliefs into question and also causes a lot of concern among his congregation, including his friends Jay and Nancy. As the story of Colton’s experience in Heaven starts to gain media coverage there is a feeling among the members of the Church that perhaps Minister Burpa is taking the church in the wrong direction, after which point the film attempts to resolve itself with as little complexity and nuance as possible.
I am in no way exaggerating when I say that this is an awful film. Even the film’s well known cast can’t make anything of this appalling script. The always reliable Greg Kinnear does his best in the leading role as Todd Burpa, while newcomer Conor Corrum does a competent job of being cute as his son Colton. The stellar supporting cast includes Nancy Reilly, Margo Martindale and Thomas Haden Church none of whom get sufficient material to develop their characters in any meaningful way. This film is so clichéd, cheesy and sentimental at every turn that one could be forgiven for mistaking it as a parody. Unfortunately though the film takes itself incredibly seriously and at no point was the audience in the cinema compelled to as much as a chuckle.
As I mentioned before, this script is very poor and as a result we don’t really believe in the actions or emotions of any of the characters due mainly to the fact that the source of conflict itself just isn’t believable. The film is so uninhibitedly pro-Christian and pro-faith in a time in Western Culture where it couldn’t be less cool, it’s almost admirable. Almost being the pivotal word here, as it doesn’t work on any level as a movie. As a piece of Christian propaganda it fails on the level of emotional manipulation because you couldn’t care less about the characters. The film’s overtly positive religious sentiment of the film has saved it from the complete critical annihilation that it deserved in the U.S. as it’s often not wise to offend the powerful Christian Lobby. I am absolutely certain that this movie will fail to replicate its U.S. success with more cynical European audiences and as I’m sure it has become clear I couldn’t honestly recommend this film to anyone without an insult being implied.
For Kinnear, Church and co. it’s hard to believe that they will look back on this project with anything other than sheepish embarrassment. Save yourself an hour and a half of dreary sentimental rubbish, don’t watch this movie.
PG (See IFCO for details)
Heaven is for Real is released on 13th June 2014