Let's make something crystal clear, reviewing one's faith is not only inappropriate and completely out of bounds...but reviewing a movie about faith is a different beast entirely. "Heaven Is For Real" is a heavy handed, clunky examination of issues of faith that could have been into an interesting story that instead devolves into uneven and heavy handed storytelling that was just more unnecessary than anything else.
In small town Nebraska, the local pastor who prefers to simply be called Todd (Greg Kinnear) and his wife Sonja (Kelly Reilly) son, have to deal with their son Colton (Connor Corum), claims to have visited heaven during a near death experience. Colton recounts the details of his amazing journey with childlike innocence and speaks matter-of-factly about things that happened before his birth; things he couldn't possibly know. Todd and his family are faced with challenges, not only from the townspeople and their friends but from within as well in order to truly examine the meaning of this remarkable event that happened to their family.
While the issues surrounding near death experiences and how people deal with their faith could certainly make for some interesting storytelling, "Heaven Is For Real" was such a poorly executed mess of a film and it's disappointing because the idea actually had some promise, but it reminds us all that no matter how many copies of a book is sold, it can't always be adapted for the screen, no matter how much you may want it to.
With Manitoba, doing a fairly good impression of small town Nebraska, co-writer and director Randall Wallace certainly crafts an idyllic enough visual palette to work with, trying their very hardest to make it look like their own slice of heaven. However it was just so sloppy in so many other aspects that even the occasional thing that they actually got right was quickly overshadowed.
The pacing was very uneven, as it picks up salient plot points one minute only to drop them the next as the focus of the film is always shifting ever so slightly and quite often moving way too fast in order to cram in as much info as they possibly can. Mean while there are moments of dialogue that range from corny, to borderline offensive and while I know a lot of the movie is based on the impressions of a 4 year old boy, the movie just incredibly pandering at times from the dramatic swell of music timed to the slow motion drop of the boy's Spider-Man toy on the way to the operating room, all the way to anyone who doesn't believe this story being portrayed as standoffish and generally arrogant and even nasty. None of this helps, a talented ensemble cast who have done much better work then this.
Greg Kinnear was just trying so darn hard to be affable in this one, and he is the film's best shot at raising this out of the mire that it just can't get out. It's a worthy effort and he is certainly playing that type of town preacher that I'm sure we'd like to get a beer with, it just never connects. Kelly Reilly doesn't get a lot to do, while young Connor Corum is just WAY too articulate for anything to be believable. On the page, I have no doubt that this young boy is a compelling and inspirational character but it just does not translate to the big screen and it takes out of everything. While the likes of Margo Martindale and Thomas Haden Church are seemingly just trying to get fired from the picture delivering stilted performances as they knew that the script gave them next to nothing to work with.
At the end of the day, "Heaven Is For Real" had a chance to be a real thing about the perception of the afterlife and how we individually and collectively deal with issues of faith, instead it was just a heavy handed mess of a film that barely makes any sense even in the best of moments. I'm personally very happy that the source material of the book has served as a source of inspiration for so many people, but as a film it just doesn't work.
1 out of 5 stars.
"Heaven Is For Real" is now playing at theatres all across the country, check with your local listings for show times.