Monday, October 27, 2014

Movie Review - Heaven Is for Real

Heaven Is for Real (2014)
Starring Greg Kinnear, Kelly Reilly, Connor Corum, Thomas Haden Church, Lane Styles, and Margo Martindale
Directed by Randal Wallace

The "religious movie" genre isn't exactly known for quality.  I'm not talking about historical epics like The Passion of the Christ, but instead those lower budget, poorly acted flicks that find themselves being advertised on the Fox News Channel and nowhere else.  With Heaven Is for Real, we get to see what happens when you take that same faith-based quality and put a little money behind, hire Academy Award-nominated and Emmy-winning actors, and bring on a director/screenwriter known for flicks like Secretariat and Braveheart.  The result:  a sugary concoction that's well-acted, but overlong and cloyingly message-driven.

After four year-old Colton Burpo (Connor Corum in a strong acting debut) has emergency surgery following a sky-high fever, he awakens and tells his father and mother (Greg Kinnear and Kelly Reilly) that he saw Heaven and met Jesus while on the surgical table.  Although dad Todd is a pastor, he has a tough time believing this until Colton tells him things that the boy was completely incapable of knowing -- describing in detail Todd's grandfather whom Colton never met, telling Todd exactly what he was doing while Colton was in surgery, and so on.  This sets up a perplexing inner dynamic for Todd as he wants to believe his son, but discovers that his own faith is being tested.

What saves Heaven Is for Real from going over the edge into a complete saccharine mess are the performances from the entire acting ensemble.  Kinnear delicately balances the faith issues his character faces in a commendable way.  Kelly Reilly takes on the stock role of wife and mother, but gives her character a little bit of bite and sass.  Nice supporting turns from Thomas Haden Church and Margo Martindale as church members round out the cast and bring a quality to the table we don't usually see in faith-based films.

Unfortunately, the film can't escape the shackles of its PG-rated nature.  There's no bite to any scene.  A visit of Todd's to an atheistic college professor ends with the professor coming off as a bit of a jerk instead of presenting an opposing viewpoint which simply plays into the hands of the movie-going community who flocked to this flick upon its release last Easter.

I will say, however, that Heaven Is for Real does elevate the faith-based movie genre in a way that I think is definitely positive.  The story, while lacking depth, is intriguing (particularly seeing as how it's based on a real-life situation) and had potential to really dive deep into its subject matter.  While it doesn't really go there in terms of depth, I appreciate the ramped-up aesthetics this brings to the genre.

The RyMickey Rating:  C 

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