Heaven is for Real

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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.

Michael Rice

PG (See IFCO for details)
99 mins

Heaven is for Real is released on 13th June 2014

Heaven is for Real – Official Website

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JDIFF: Irish Film Review – Calvary

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Donnchadh Tiernan checks out John Michael McDonagh’s Calvary, which opened the 12th Jameson Dublin International Film Festival.

The opening line of John Michael McDonagh’s sophomore effort packs such an almighty punch it would be a shame to divulge it here. As a quote from Saint Augustine on the poetic implications of the titular hill fades to the candlelit visage of Brendan Gleeson’s central priest a line of dialogue is delivered with enough weight to shake any audience of expectations for a would-be sequel to 2011’s The Guard. The dialogue of the anonymous confessor continues to outline what will be the framework within which the film will play out; in seven days, having spent their childhood being raped daily by a priest, the faceless victim will shoot Gleeson’s priest, plainly because he, a good priest, being murdered will send a greater message. When Gleeson leaves the booth he seems to know who has threatened him. We, however, do not, and the film commences.

The prime action of the piece is made up of Gleeson’s interactions with locals; characters played by the greatest assembly of Irish and British acting talent since Intermission: Pat Shortt as a Buddhist publican; Dylan Moran as a socially estranged property developer; Chris O’Dowd as the butcher; Kelly Reilly as Gleeson’s suicidal daughter from a pre-orders marriage; Aidan Gillen as an atheistic, nihilistic doctor. The list actually does go on but to give everyone worthy of shout-out here their just deserts would evolve this review to a novella. Everyone available seemingly wanted to appear in this film and once one sniffs out the marrow of the meandering plot it is easy to see why.

The first act of Calvary is the segment that requires the most salt in viewing. What might be biting satire or critique is diluted with Fr. Ted jokes as they might have been written for HBO. McDonagh being cut from the cloth he is the dialogue and structure is ever a comment on the medium and genre itself, in this case such thematic stuff as Song for a Raggy Boy or Sleepers, but considering both the setting and the opening this does not seem enough. As a matter of fact, until Gleeson’s church is burnt to the ground midway through (as seen in the trailer and on the poster), it seems as though the writer-director is shying from the route he initially gestured towards. Then, as flames flicker against the night, the second act reveals a darker side of The Guard’s wry wit and the film dives headlong into murk the previous film only hinted at.

What transpires in the film’s remainder is often heavy drama and is a credit to its cast, particular credit due to Domhnall Gleeson and Chris O’Dowd, the former stepping out of his father’s shadow while sitting across from him, the latter whom will surely be hearing meatier dramatic scripts whacking his hallway floor more regularly in the coming months. This film’s heart, soul and muse, as with The Guard, is undoubtedly the masterful Brendan Gleeson, who communicates the bitterness and flickering hopes of a dying faith with dark weary eyes and reserved gestures.

Any flaws here are minor and aesthetic. The rent-boy Lucky Leo is one caricature too far and Dave McSavage playing a bishop carries too much weight as a cultural reference to work alongside the more serious tones surrounding the role. The cast of characters is, overall, too large to justify and trying to keep up with them at times muddles the plot. Thankfully, McDonagh’s agenda is so potent and engaging that its confidence propels viewer attention along with it at far too ardent a pace to linger on such minor foibles.

With Calvary, McDonagh has completed the sentence he began to utter with The Guard. As an already evident auteur, he loves Ireland (as clearly evidenced by the glorious landscape shots throughout) and despises such Irish institutions as middle-management, bitterness and mob-rule. Were he a pamphleteer, which on a certain level he undoubtedly is, his prime target would be Joe Duffy’s listenership and high-ranking church officials in equal measure. In fact, there is such ample critique of Irish society in the third act it feels as though two films in he may have made his magnum opus. On immediate reflection, not only do I wish to re-watch Calvary soon but I believe it will prove as much of a necessary watch for at least one generation to come as it will be a gripping, funny and moving one for audiences this year. Once again, McDonagh has produced a work impossible to pigeon-hole into any genre, except perhaps “Essential Viewing”.

 

 

Click here for further coverage from the 12th Jameson Dublin International Film Festival.

Calvary screened on Thursday, 13th February 2014 as part of the 12th Jameson Dublin International Film Festival (13 – 23 February 2014).

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