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Heaven Is for Real (2014): Greg Kinnear, Kelly Reilly, Thomas Haden Church, Margo Martindale, Connor Corum, Lana Styles

 
Heaven Is for Real is based on the #1 New York Times best-selling book of the same name Heaven is for Real (2010) by Todd Burpo and Lynn Vincent.  This true story is about Reverend Todd Burpo (Greg Kinnear) and his son, Colton's (Connor Corum) extraordinary recollection of his near death experience where he visits heaven, sees angels sing, meets Jesus and Burpo's grandfather Pop's.  The snippets of memory creates chaos, doubts, rejection and anger to the immediate family and friends yet evolves into something more for everyone in the community.  It is a story about faith, perceptions, beliefs and ultimately love.


    



 
The tale commences in Nebraska with Burpo and his wife, Sonja (Kelly Reilly) living a normal life that includes work, family life and singing in a church with a community of friends.  Friends and family connect every Sunday, listen to rousing upbeat sermons by Burpo, attend meet and greets and in the afternoon the community watches the adults play coed softball rather than children play.  Think of the small-town, Odessa, Texas in the film Friday Night Lights(2004). The Burpo family is barely making it financially with repair work, as a Reverend and as a volunteer fireman though remains a close knit family connected to the local community, which is refreshing. This isn't a world of consumption or keeping up with the Jones with the bigger better house or the latest gadget, apparel or car on the market. The simple connection by everyone and beauty of natures elements such as golden wheat blowing in the wind, blue skies and stunning green grass around them is breathtaking.   When Colton, is suddenly rushed to the hospital for a burst appendix and almost dies, the family and town pull together in prayer. Colton, a four year-old, recovers and begins to randomly recount an amazing journey to his parents.   The childlike communication and matter of fact speech about the events surrounding the operation, prior to his birth, and the meeting of Burpo's grandfather are astounding.  Burpo, is challenged to understand the meaning of this episode and actually is the number one doubter in the film.


     
The primary theme of the movie surrounds Burpo's inner conflict on what he hears from his son  and whether it is true or not true? Kinnear brilliantly portrays conflicted emotions and rage all the while dealing with friends accusing him that Colton's experience is silly nonsense.  The conundrum and skepticism is felt by all on the big screen and with the audience watching the film.  Since the family is very religious, the question arises from Sonja that Colton is pulling the tidbits of information from images seen throughout his short life.   When Burpo questions a professor at a local college about near death experiences, the professor exclaims that the brain when near death releases hormones that create hallucinations.  Thus, doubting, confusion and the will to continue to act as the town preacher eludes Burpo.  Both parents believe the child is brilliant and very imaginative until Colton comments on something out of the blue that stuns Sonja into tears.  There was no way he could have known.


     
















The story unfolds, is beautifully depicted and acted without turning into a sermon on having faith or making a stand on the afterlife. In fact, the movie is more about acceptance of one another's experiences and that miracles do exist.  After all, who are we to judge what is true or not true for another person? Burpo introspection takes him to the next level and brings forth the real meaning and purpose of his life which allows him to parlay back into preaching with a renewed and full heart.

Heaven Is for Real is a wonderful film for all ages to see.  A heartfelt true story, with believable acting, loving family and friends that are deeply connected.   It makes one want to join a church or group endeavors to participate closely with their fellow man rather than be isolated.  The movie reminds us that another's personal experiences that are not quantifiable by science remains the greatest mystery.  Perhaps believing heaven and hell are here on earth and choosing love over hate and that having faith does indeed bring happiness.   For this believer - I believed based on my own strange and unexplainable experiences on this journey called life.  A worthwhile film to see.  Bring Kleenex for tears of joy. 

Rating: Three Stars -  An Oscar film - No!  A good film for the entire family.  Yes!  Would I watch again - Yes!

Directed by:  Randall Wallace
 
Cinematography:  Dean Semler, an Oscar-winning cinematographer for "Dances With Wolves". (1990)  Filmed in Winnipeg, Canada.  Gorgeous scenery.



    



Kim Hardwick - Cinema Report

 

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