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New Release Review - Heaven Is for Real

A young boy claims to have visited heaven during a near death experience.

Directed by: Randall Wallace
Starring: Greg Kinnear, Kelly Reilly, Thomas Haden Church, Connor Corum, Lane Styles, Margo Martindale, Nancy Sorel




Four year old Pastor's son Colton Burpo (Corum) is rushed into life-threatening emergency surgery, which he survives. Later, he tells his father, Tood (Kinnear), of how he was whisked away to Heaven during the surgery. At first, Todd puts his son's claims down to childish fantasy, but when the boy begins to reveal details of events and people he couldn't possibly otherwise be aware of, Todd is forced to consider the possibility that Colton isn't making the story up.
For a long time, America's huge Christian community was largely shunned by mainstream media. With the exception of TV shows like Highway to Heaven, Touched by an Angel and Seventh Heaven, America's largest demographic group haven't had much in the way of entertainment to satisfy their niche. That seems to be rapidly changing, with a series of faith based movies making a sizeable impact at the US box office in recent years. Earlier this year, two low budget films, Son of God and God's Not Dead, made a killing on their opening weekends, taking back their modest budgets ten-fold. Hollywood has been looking on in envy for quite a while, so it was only a matter of time before a major studio decided to cash in on the pious pound.
And so we get Heaven is for Real, as cynical an exercise in film-making as you're likely to see. Based on a scarily popular "non-fiction" book by the real life Pastor Todd Burpo, the film wants to have its communion wafer and eat it, striving to placate believers while at the same time seeking as large and inclusive an audience as possible. Todd tells his congregation, and the viewer, that maybe Heaven is a place on Earth, within our hearts, but this is after the film has presented us with numerous scenes making it explicitly clear that Colton did indeed visit the land in the clouds (The green screen representation of Heaven here looks like test footage ILM might have shot in 1993).
The cynicism continues with an inordinate amount of product placement for Spiderman, a property owned by Sony, the studio behind this film. Colton's room is plastered with Spidey posters, and a Spiderman action figure literally gets more screen time than Thomas Haden Church. You can pass this off as coincidence but those angels look an awful lot like the winged Columbia TriStar (a division of Sony Pictures) horse.
Kinnear's Burpo is the sort of All-American guy politicians like to pluck out of obscurity around election time as an example of what makes the nation great. Not only is he a pastor, but he also volunteers for the local fire brigade, coaches wrestling at the high school, and sells garage doors, for which he's willing to accept carpet as payment. He's not so much a character as a walking slice of apple pie. Despite all this, we're told the Burpos are struggling financially, with Colton's operation alone setting them back $34,000, but it's a classic case of Hollywood poverty; Todd seems to have enough money to eat in the local diner every day, and when his wife (Reilly, highly unconvincing as a preacher's spouse) announces a third child is on the way, the couple celebrate without a thought as to how exactly they plan to financially cater for this extra human in their house (the Lord will provide, I guess).
Both the book and the film have been criticised as heavily by traditional Christians for its fairy tale take on spirituality as by non-believers. People can believe what they want to believe, but at some point every religion enters the realm of racial superiority and bigotry. When Todd shows his son pictures of Jesus, like a detective asking a victim to identify their mugger, Colton replies that, "Jesus didn't have brown eyes, he had green eyes." Later, watching a CNN report on a young girl in Lithuania who painted a portrait of a green-eyed Jesus she similarly met on a trip to cloud city, Colton exclaims, "That's him! That's Jesus!" Seems not only is heaven for real, but Jesus is a WASP.
4/10


Eric Hillis

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