When Hollywood decided to make a movie of Todd Burpo's international bestseller, Heaven Is For Real, they could have really messed it up. They could have made it too saccharine; they could have made it too religious; they could have made it too far out there for anyone to want to understand. But they didn't. They gave it to Randall "Braveheart" Wallace to direct and he made a movie that everyone will want to see it and most will appreciate.
To do this Wallace made a movie that is more about how people react to Todd Burpo's son Colton than about his experience. In the film Todd (Greg Kinnear), a pastor, hears his son Colton (Connor Corum) talking about Heaven and pretty much dismisses it. He understands that this 4-year-old boy has just been through a traumatic experience when he had a ruptured appendix and almost died during surgery.
Todd continues to pretty much dismiss what Colton is saying until the boy starts talking about things that he could not possibly know. At this point Todd is convinced that his son did have a rare experience and that he did visit in Heaven. He shares this news with his congregation and others in the small town in which he and his family live. The reaction is not all positive, even in his own church.
Kinnear underplays his role as Todd, keeping the man likeable but somewhat confused. This makes him someone with whom the audience can identify. When he finally accepts the reality of what has happened to Colton, the audience can accept it too. It is a solid performance by Kinnear, who is sometimes an unappreciated actor of depth.
Opposite him as Todd's wife Sonja, Kelly Reilly is weak. She brings nothing special to the role and makes this lady pretty much bland. It might be the fault of the script, which doesn't give her much to do, or it might just be that she is miscast. There is little charisma between her and Kinnear and that appears to be her fault.
Margo Martindale and Thomas Haden Church are two stalwarts in the field of character actors. They make any movie better and they certainly add to the enjoyment of Heaven Is For Real. They are extraordinarily ordinary as two friends of the Burpos who are also in their congregation.
Other added plusses for the film are the cinematography and the musical score; another minus is the decision to show some of Colton's heavenly visit. That should have been left to the imagination.
The movie is rated PG for some adult themes.
The story told by Todd Burpo is a unique one. The movie that has been made from it is also unique. It is a film that tells its story in a quiet, humble way. It is uplifting and enjoyable.
I scored Heaven Is For Real a truthful 7 out of 10.
Here is my interview with the "real" Todd Burpo.