Movie Review: In 'Heaven' there is no bier
"Is heaven a hope or real?"
Todd Burpo (Greg Kinnear) asks that question in the opening narration of "Heaven Is For Real," a touching tale of admittedly corny sentimentality that left me all blubbery and emotionally- moved.
Burpo is pastor of a nondenominational church in Imperial, Neb. The pastor's faith, as well as the beliefs of his wife, Sonja (Kelly Reilly), and the faith of his congregation are put to the test when the pastor's four-year-old son, Colton (Connor Corum), has a near-death experience.
Following a medical center procedure for appendicitis that nearly takes his life, the son tells his dad that he had "been to heaven" where he "met Jesus" and "saw angels."
The boy tells his dad that he also saw people, including the pastor's dead grandfather and a sister who had died in child birth.
As in the movie, "The Sixth Sense" (1999), Colton can say, "I see dead people." The difference with "Heaven Is For Real" is that, as Colton describes eternity, everyone there seems very much alive.
The son's matter-of-fact reportage of his "heavenly" experience doesn't sit well with the pastor's tidy parables and Sunday sermon symbolism. When a reporter interviews the son and pastor and writes an article published in the local newspaper, students bully the boy's sister during recess at grade school.
Randall Wallace ("Secretariat," 2010; "We Were Soldiers," 2002; "The Man In The Iron Mask," 1998) directs from a screenplay he co-wrote with Chris Parker ("Battle Of The Year," 2013) based on The New York Times No. 1 best-selling book, "Heaven Is For Real: A Little Boy's Astounding Story of His Trip To Heaven And Back," written by Todd Burpo and Lynn Vincent.
"Heaven Is For Real" is unexceptional in its screenplay, cinematography and pacing. The fascinating based-on-reality story is what makes the film worth a look.
As the pastor, Kinnear is at his boyish best. He's quite good in a lead role that could have been mired in the maudlin. Reilly, as the pastor's wife, creates some genuine moments.
Thomas Haden Church is always fine. Here, he's the pastor's best friend and a local banker. Margo Martindale is solid as a still grieving mother whose son was a military casualty.
Corum, in his motion picture debut, is extraordinary. Facially, he's the "Our Gang" comedies' Spanky McFarland of the New Millennium.
What's perhaps most interesting about "Heaven Is For Real" is its matter-of-fact depiction of persons of faith. When was the last time you saw the interior of a church where it didn't represent some effrontery or was presented as mockery or played for cynicism?
"Heaven Is For Real" is one of the most overtly Christian films with Hollywood-level production values to be released by a mainstream entertainment company.
Another noteworthy aspect is the film's small-town setting. It seems, everyone wears at least three hats, and one of those is a fireman's at the local volunteer fire department.
The pastor also has a garage-door installation and repair firm and coaches the high school wrestling team, in addition to being a volunteer fireman. The depiction of the pastor as a regular guy is refreshing.
"Heaven Is For Real," along with "God's Not Dead," "Son of God" and to a lesser extent, "Noah," weren't only timed for release to cash in on the recent Christian Holy Days of Lent and Easter. If you're not a Christian, you may find these films off-putting. If you are a Christian, you may find them embracing.
"Some people might be afraid to believe," it's said at one point in "Heaven Is For Real."
Heaven can wait. Meanwhile, consider "Heaven Is For Real."
"Heaven Is For Real," MPAA Rated PG (Parental Guidance Suggested. Some Material May Not Be Suitable For Children.) for thematic material including some medical situations; Genre; Drama; Run time: 1 hour, 49 min.; Distributed by Tristar-Sony Pictures.
Credit Readers Anonymous: The traditional hymn, "Come Thou Fount Of Every Blessing," is heard partially during the film and in its entirety during closing credits.
Box Office, April 25: "The Other Woman" opened at No. 1, with $24.7 million, overtaking "Captain America: The Winter Soldier," dropping to No. 2 after a three-week run at No. 1 with $16 million, $224.8 million, four weeks; with "Heaven Is For Real" continuing at No. 3, $13.8 million, $51.9 million, two weeks;
4. "Rio 2," $13.6 million, $96.1 million, three weeks; 5. "Brick Mansions," $9.6 million, opening; 6. "Transcendence," $4.1 million, $18.4 million, two weeks; 7. "The Quiet Ones," $4 million, opening; 8. "Bears," $3.6 million, $11.1 million, two weeks; 9. "Divergent," $3.6 million, $139.4 million, six weeks; 10. "A Haunted House 2," $3.2 million, $14.2 million, two weeks
Unreel, May 2:
"The Amazing Spider-Man 2," PG-13: Let the summer movie season begin with this blockbuster starring Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker, aka Spidey; Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy; Jamie Foxx as Electro; Emmaus High School graduate Dane DeHaan as Green Goblin; Paul Giamatti as Aleksei Sytsevich, and Sally Field as Spidey's Aunt May.
"Belle," PG: A bi-racial daughter challenges aristocratic Great Britain in the drama, sort of down-market "Downton Abbey." Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Tom Wilkenson, Emily Watson and Miranda Richardson star.
"Walk Of Shame," R: Elizabeth Banks stars in the comedy about a TV news anchor stranded in downtown Los Angeles on the eve of her big job interview. James Marsden, Gillian Jacobs and Sarah Wright co-star.
"The Protector 2," R: The owner of an elephant camp is murdered. Tony Jaa stars. RZA costars in the action film.
Read Paul Willistein's movie reviews at the Lehigh Valley Press web site, thelehighvalley-press.com; the Times-News web site, tnonline.com; and hear them on "Lehigh Valley Art Salon," 6 - 6:30 p.m. Mondays, WDIY 88.1 FM, and wdiy.org, where they're archived. Email Paul Willistein: pwillistein@ tnonline.com. You can follow Paul Willistein on Twitter and friend Paul Willistein on facebook.