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News Eagle - Hawley, PA
  • Movie review: Kinnear keeps faith-based 'Heaven Is For Real' grounded

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  • Coming on the heels of “Noah,” “God’s Not Dead” and “Son of God,” the glut of faith-based movies continues this Holy Week with the Christian drama “Heaven Is For Real,” the true story of a 4-year-old boy who claims to have visited heaven during a near-death experience.
    In adapting Nebraska pastor Todd Burpo’s best-selling 2010 memoir, subtitled “A Little Boy’s Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back,” Randall Wallace, who wrote “Braveheart” and directed “Secretariat,” puts forth a spiritually engaging film that earned applause from the audience I saw it with.
    What works for Wallace, who studied religion at Duke, is that the film has a solid cast, and the script from Chris Parker isn’t preachy or pandering. It doesn’t try to make heathens see the light. Also, the filmmakers are careful to give adequate weight to opposing views. There is still, however, a lot of treacle to swallow.
    Greg Kinnear sheds his usual smugness to play Burpo, a man whose faith is tested after his son nearly dies from a burst appendix. After that ordeal, Colton (newcomer Connor Corum) recounts in bits and pieces a visit to heaven and reveals things that he could not possibly know about dead family members and how he sat on the lap of Jesus. Colton’s sister, Cassie (Lane Styles), calls it “creepy.” She’s not wrong.
    Kinnear does his best to keep his character sincere as Todd becomes obsessed with seeking explanations from doctors and godless academics. Mom (Kelly Reilly) is harder to convince. She’s more concerned with the family’s growing financial woes, but plays along, reluctantly letting her son be interviewed by the local paper. When that story breaks, the once-beloved Burpos are the laughingstock of Imperial, Neb.
    Todd’s congregants (Margo Martindale, Thomas Haden Church) at the Crossroads Wesleyan Church are freaked and turn on their spiritual leader during his crisis of faith. “Is the boy a miracle?” “Do you believe he was in heaven?” they ask.
    That Todd’s flock makes such an about-face toward him feels manipulative. But that switch does set up some poignant third-act moments between Todd and Martindale’s Nancy Rawling, a woman whose son was killed in action. Reilly also has a couple of touching scenes opposite Connor and Kinnear.
    Without anything actually happening plotwise, an existential crisis can only take a narrative so far. Therefore, the film moves slowly. Wallace lets his camera linger – a lot – on Connor’s precious cherub face, on a field of sunflowers, on the sky, and the soft-piano music lets you know just how you’re supposed feel. The scenes depicting heaven and Jesus (a green-eyed Kenny Loggins) have a cheesy special-effects feel. Yes, you could be watching a bloated episode of “Touched By An Angel,” which like “Heaven,” is a gentle family drama preaching a universal gospel – God is love.
    Page 2 of 2 - Dana Barbuto may be reached at dbarbuto@ledger.com or follow her on Twitter @danabarbuto.
    HEAVEN IS FOR REAL (PG for thematic material including some medical situations) Cast includes Greg Kinnear, Kelly Reilly, Thomas Haden Church, Connor Corum, Margo Martindale. Grade: C+

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