Heaven is for Real movie poster. Based on a true story with truly acceptable production values, this is no after-school special.

Heaven is for Real  relies on a capable cast and solid directing to tell a story that could easily have come off preachy and uninspiring. Often movies with a strong “faith based message” assume that audiences will overlook faulty production and phoned in performances. They forget that even if the message is important the entertainment value is just as vital. Luckily this one doesn’t get lost in the clouds but keeps its characters feet planted firmly on the ground.

The film is based on the true account and best-selling book about the Burpo family.  Todd Burpo (Greg Kinnear) is a small town preacher raising two kids with his wife Sonja (Kelly Reilly) and trying to make ends meet. When their preschool aged son Colton (Connor Corum) has a life threatening medical procedure and claims to have visited heaven, it tests Todd’s faith. Todd must find a way to share the information with friends and his congregation while not sounding irrational or nuts. But Colton’s amazing descriptions and matter of fact recounting of his visit is too great not to share.

At first you may think that this is just a young kid’s vivid imagination. And that is valid. As he talks about Jesus, seeing the angles, and meeting family members long past you can’t help but hope it is true. We all have difference of opinions when it comes to heaven and the afterlife. This film does a nice job of putting one story out there and letting the audience decide where they want to go with it. You are on the journey with Todd. How do you react? Do you believe your son? Do you trust everything you learned on Sunday?  Do you allow the negative naysayers to negate what could be a beautiful experience? All of these struggles meet Todd head on.

Kinnear and Reilly are fantastic as the Burpo parents. They bring a down to earth realism to the characters. They are not portrayed as pious Christians who have all the answers and walk around in sack cloth and ashes. Like most parents faced with the near death of a child they get angry with God, they have doubts and concerns and aren’t afraid to voice their frustrations. Outside of that they are also flirty and fun. They act like you would think a young married couple would. They are normal and come across as nothing more.

The story is a touching and at times teary eyed account that often gets a little cheesy but just when you think it may go too far Director Randall Wallace (Secretariat) reins it back in and keeps it on focus. Yes it is geared toward the faith based community and those outside the church may find it preachy and the dialogue a bit too evangelical. That said the characters and supporting cast (Margo Martindale, Thomas Haden Church) give it enough stability that you don’t feel like you are watching an after school special. This film will touch your heart regardless of your beliefs.

Heaven is for Real is rated PG for thematic material including some medical situations. There are some serious moments when Colton gets sick but they are fast and the movie doesn’t camp there for very long. There is nothing in this film that you should worry about your kids watching. In fact it would be a great film for the entire family to watch and discuss; especially in this season. I give it 4.5 out of 5 pearly gates. No, it will not come close to the summer blockbusters heading our way in regards to entertainment and production value. But in comparison to other films of this genre that have come before it; it is a slam dunk. Thanks mainly to Kinnear and his ability to breathe life into this everyday father.


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