Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Heaven is For Real Review

Religious movies are on a roll this year and quite honestly that makes me happy. It started in February when Son of God was released. Son of God was followed by surprise March hit God's Not Dead. Both of these movies are ending their run with over $50 million in the US box office. And now Heaven is For Real is up to bat and it's turning out to be the best of the three. By this time next week, it will have passed both of these other movies and that'll only be its third weekend. I guess we can kind of include The Saratov Approach into this conversation. It only made $2.15 million, but being that it was only supposed to be a small Utah release initially, that number is actually quite incredible. It hit a select number of nationwide theaters back in January and February of this year. Now in reviewing these religious movies, it's of note that I am an active Christian and so I will be scattering my personal beliefs into this review. If that bothers you then you don't have to read on, but I do this because my personal beliefs is part of what helps me gauge how I feel about these movies, so I do deem that necessary.

I want to start this review off by saying that I think that this story is absolutely incredible. It's based off a true story that centers around the experience of a four-year-old boy, but is really about his whole family, specifically his father Todd Burpo. Todd is the pastor of his church, but yet as pastor he goes through a huge trial of his faith. The movie starts by him as narrator asking a question. Is heaven merely a hope or is it as real as the earth we live on? That's paraphrased of course, but after introducing that question, the movie spends the whole time pondering on it and then answering it at the end. The answer to the question should come as no surprise since it is in the title, but the journey to get to that point is what matters. After suffering through a few physical trials of his own, one day Todd's four-year-old son Colton suffers a ruptured appendix and has to get rushed to the hospital where he almost dies. By a pure miracle sparked heavily by the prayers of the whole congregation, Colton makes it out alive. Shortly after, he starts telling his dad about an experience he had where he went to heaven. As the movie goes on, he reveals more and more of his story and his dad has to decide what to make of this story that his little boy is telling him. This becomes a huge trial for Todd as he has to look inside himself to figure out what he really believes.

Yes, this story is inspiring and it brings up a lot of religious points that can be discussed amongst fellow religious circles without being very preachy. However, I do have to be honest for a bit. The movie lacked the emotional firepower that I thought it was going to bring. Part of the problem was the pacing of the movie. For such an amazing story, it moved rather slow. It took a while to get into the main conflict of the movie, that of the boy's near-death experience and his subsequent trip to heaven, and instead just followed this family. I suppose it was just trying to set things up, but I felt the set-up was too long. Then after this conflict arose, the movie still felt really choppy. The emotional, religious experiences were spread out too much and we spent too much time focusing on things such as the family's finances and job situation. The other part of the problem is that I actually felt robbed by the trailer. "Well Adam that is your fault. You should stop watching and analyzing the trailers so much." Ok, yes that's true. But that's not going to happen. I love watching trailers and I use those trailers to both gauge my excitement and to determine what movies I'm going to see. That said, literally every emotional part of this movie was in the trailer. So while watching this movie, I went in cycles. There would be a time where I was bored because of the pacing issues. Then when it started to get good, I felt robbed because I had already seen what was going to happen. The trailer wasn't just a preview of the movie. The trailer was the movie with all the slow parts taken out. That frustrated me.

That aside, this definitely wasn't a loss. The acting was surprisingly good. I say that because these type of movies don't have the budget to get a bunch of prolific actors, so the focus becomes more on the message being presented with the acting skills coming second. But the acting was good and it does have several bigger names attached to it. Greg Kinnear and Kelly Reilly are the parents and both are excellent. Thomas Haden Church and Margo Martindale show up as congregation members. But the real star of the show was Connor Corum, who plays four-year-old Colton. I don't know how old Connor is in real life, but he can't be much older than five or six and he is totally adorable. It's hard to find good actors that young, so you can't criticize him at all for acting deficiencies because for his age he is amazing. It's like yelling at your one-year-old for not being able to walk well or your two-year-old for not being able to talk well. It's dumb.

No this movie isn't perfect, but when push comes to shove, this is a religious movie that is trying to gently share a very inspiring story and in that aspect it does it's job. It teaches about faith. It teaches about family. It teaches about God. Criticisms towards the actual story itself that have arisen? They're out there. My response is that haters will hate. After watching this movie, I do believe that the events actually happened to this boy. In a near death experience, I think Jesus can take the hand of a little child, give him a glimpse of heaven, and introduce him to family members that have passed on before his time. Totally believable. The things that the boy says in this movie are totally consistent with Christian theologies about Heaven and honestly I think a lot can be learned from little children about life, faith, God, and Heaven. So yes, this did inspire me. Have I read the book written by Todd Burpo that this movie is based off of? No. Do I want to after seeing this? Yes. Do I think that the book will probably be better? Of course. But this movie does deserve credit as a good film for religious audiences and so I will give Heaven is For Real an 8/10 and encourage you to simply avoid the trailer if at all possible if you have yet to see this movie.

PS- My favorite scene was at the very end. I want to talk about it, but I don't want to spoil anything. So if you've seen this movie, ask me about it in private.

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