Heaven Is for Real

Heaven Is for Real

2014, PG, 100 min. Directed by Randall Wallace. Starring Greg Kinnear, Kelly Reilly, Thomas Haden Church, Connor Corum, Margo Martindale, Lane Styles.

REVIEWED By Steve Davis, Fri., April 25, 2014

The empirical question of heaven’s existence is a rhetorical one by default – by the time you know the answer, it’s a little late to share it with anyone else. That is, unless you’re real-life Colton Burpo, the 4-year-old son of a Midwestern pastor who matter-of-factly claimed he visited the celestial kingdom while his body lay on an operating table with a ruptured appendix. Based on the bestselling 2010 Christian book of the same name, Heaven Is for Real is a well-meaning but misshapen movie about the folly of pursuing answers to unanswerable questions.

Colton’s fairly traditional version of heaven is out of a children’s book of Bible stories: a place imbued with light that is inhabited by ethereal angels and a fair-skinned, light-eyed Jesus who (less-than-traditionally) rides a horse. But disturbingly enough, certain elements of the tow-headed young boy’s account of his heavenly visit defy rational explanation, such as details about the unborn sister who preceded him and the paternal grandfather he never met. While Colton’s point of view (as seen through newcomer Corum’s translucently blue eyes) is central to the narrative, it is his father’s test of faith that gives the film its lumpy form. For Todd Burpo, a financially strapped man of the cloth who’s known his share of adversity, his son’s seemingly fantastic story could substantiate the existence of heaven if it actually happened. The question of fact or fantasy becomes his personal and professional obsession, one that could cost him his ministry, his reputation, and perhaps his family.

Movies about the nature of faith usually defy cinematic translation, and Heaven Is for Real is no exception. While its heart is in the right place, the film fails to distill Todd’s conflict with any dramatic gravitas. It plays too cute most of the time, unable to shift into a loftier (and more serious) gear when the script demands it. And it makes the serious mistake of reenacting Colton’s visit to heaven, which director Wallace should have left to filmgoers’ imaginations. As the troubled father and man of God, an earnest Kinnear does his best to make it work. There’s a convincing humility in his performance that’s far, far removed from the smugness that marked his early career. At the film’s conclusion, Kinnear preaches a fine sermon that doesn’t proselytize or judge. It’s an “on Earth as it is in heaven” homily that resonates a time or two, no matter what your religious or spiritual beliefs may be. It’s not great filmmaking, or even good filmmaking for that matter, but you may find yourself saying “Amen” nevertheless.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Randall Wallace Films
Saddle up for some old-fashioned inspirational movie entertainment with Diane Lane in the lead as the owner of the famed Triple Crown winner.

Marjorie Baumgarten, Oct. 8, 2010

We Were Soldiers
Based on the book We Were Soldiers Once … and Young by Lt. General Hal Moore and Joe Galloway, this Vietnam history lesson initially steers ...

Marc Savlov, March 1, 2002

More by Steve Davis
The Legend of La Llorona
The weeping woman has reason to cry in this flat supernatural horror

Jan. 7, 2022

American Underdog
Kurt Warner biopic is too winsome to win big

Dec. 24, 2021


Heaven Is for Real, Randall Wallace, Greg Kinnear, Kelly Reilly, Thomas Haden Church, Connor Corum, Margo Martindale, Lane Styles

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Behind the scenes at The Austin Chronicle

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle