Heaven Is For Real
Director: Randall Wallace
Starring: Greg Kinnear, Kelly Reilly, Thomas Haden Church
99 mins; Class U; KRS

Heaven is for Real is based on a true story, first recounted in a bestselling book published in 2010 by Todd Burpo with Lynn Vincent. The book became a literary sensation. It hit the Number 1 position on the New York Times best-seller list and went on to sell millions; it was translated into 35 languages and corralled millions of fans around the globe with its inspirational story of life and faith. So it is hardly surprising the story found itself on the big screen.

It can’t escape its limitations, and does at times feel like a TV movie of the week

The reason for its success is its subject matter. The book tells the true story of young Colton Burpo, Todd’s four-year-old boy who was taken to hospital for emergency surgery. So serious was his condition that doctors thought he was unlikely to pull through. And yet, in what was hailed a miracle, he did. Moreover, after he recovered, Colton told an incredible story – that during the surgery he visited heaven, describing it as a beautiful place of solace and peace and describing things that he could not have known beforehand.

Cynics will, in all likelihood, run away from this kicking and screaming. Yet don’t be deceived, for while the storyline sounds remarkably twee – and there are quite a few rather eye-rolling moments when I prayed for some restraint on the screen – for the most part the story is handled with honesty and a healthy dose of scepticism to counter the rather incredible events.

Director Randall Wallace, who wrote the screenplay with Christopher Parker, keeps a firm hand on the proceedings and keeps things grounded, despite the celestial subject matter. Stars Greg Kinnear and Kelly Reilly as Colton’s parents present a sympathetic and ordinary couple trying to cope with life’s ordinary problems. Despite their strong religious faith, however, they are understandably, unsure about what to make of their son’s claim.

Interestingly, Todd Burpo is a pastor in the Nebraska town where they live; a spiritual leader who, refreshingly, does not shove his teachings down anyone’s throat and talks about God and his faith in a sincere way.

As portrayed by Kinnear, he is a likable fellow, and just as I expected him to get all happy-clappy on hearing Colton’s extraordinary claims, he actually wrong-foots us by going to visit a psychologist in search of a more logical reason for Colton’s vision.

And yet, as he deepens his search, he comes to acknowledge that the evidence, what little of it there is, points to Colton having said the truth. Todd has to go into full protection mode, shielding Colton from the sceptics within the parish and the curiosity of those from without.

Despite its many good points, Heaven is for Real can’t escape its limitations, and does at times feel like a TV movie of the week. It is an intriguing story, yet it fails to analyse the issues at hand in any depth.

There is plenty of talk of heaven and the mysteries of life after death. But it would have added so much to the story if, apart from some stunning visuals of angels and a landscape of beautiful glowing light to depict heaven, there were a little theological theory to substantiate what Colton really could have experienced. As it is, the film leaves sceptics still sceptical and some believers, well, possibly a little doubtful as to what is actually real.

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