Actors: Greg Kinnear, Thomas Haden Church
Format: Multiple Formats, Ultraviolet, Blu-ray, AC-3, Color, Dolby, Subtitled, Widescreen
Subtitles: Cantonese, Chinese, English, Korean
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
Number of discs: 2
Release Date: July 22, 2014
Run Time: 99 minutes
Heaven is for Real is a giant step for mainstream faith-based cinema, but it is far from being a perfect film. If anything, it is the complete and utter failure of films in this category from the past which helps to make Heaven is for Real appear far better than it actually is. The strengths in the film’s screenplay come from a transparent attempt to go against the grain of most propaganda-filled Christian entertainment, but it ends up coming off just a bit too forced and directionless despite these corrections. At the same time, I find it a relief to see a film about faith that is unafraid to show the suffering and struggle which can often come attached to a life dedicated to service. The characters are written to be imperfect, flawed, and often without any answers to life’s difficult questions. At times this feels sincere and honest, while other times Heaven is for Real just appears to be working overtime to placate as wide of a demographic as possible.
Although the premise of the film revolves around the claims of a young child after a near-death experience, Heaven is for Real focuses primarily on the struggles of Todd Burpo (Greg Kinnear), a small-town pastor forced to endure a series of unfortunate events leading to his son’s near-fatal illness. These struggles challenge Todd’s faith, but not nearly as much as the events which take place after the near-tragedy. When Todd’s young child
claims to have visited heaven during his time in the hospital, it raises doubts
and questions from the entire community. Todd struggles with his own faith and
deciding what to believe, though it is made easier with each additional piece
of inexplicable knowledge Colton
comes back with. Colton
The forced conflict within the film often feels a bit contrived, especially when involving members of the church (Margo Martindale, Thomas Haden Church) who are somewhat offended by the discussion of heaven. In this regard, the film meanders some in the middle, in a desperate attempt to rustle up enough conflict to carry the film to a satisfying resolution. All that can be mustered for a climactic sequence is a predictably inspirational sermon where even the non-believers attend and practically give a standing ovation. There are visions and dead sons in the church by the end of it, feeling as contrived as cinema can be. And yet, I still felt that this film was miles ahead of other faith-based films, if only for its effective cast and competent direction from Randall Wallace (We Were Soldiers).
On a completely separate note, I found the title of this film (and book) endlessly irritating. There is no reason that I can think of that the grammar needed to be so sloppy. Couldn’t at least one person have explained that including “for” in the title gives the implication that heaven is made for real individuals, rather than stating that it is a place that exists. In my mind there is nothing that makes the lingo-driven title better than simply titling it “Heaven is Real.” This may seem like a small irritation in the grand scheme of things, but this is actually a perfect indicator of the narrative’s inclination towards trendy filmmaking techniques over basic logic. So, in a way, I suppose that means that the title given is fitting for the film.
The Blu-ray combo pack includes a DVD and digital HD copy of the film, as well as a few exclusive special features. Included only on the Blu-ray disc is a featurette about the heaven sequences of the film, as well as a handful of deleted scenes. Also included are a few additional featurettes, including a generic making-of one.
Entertainment Value: 7/10
Quality of Filmmaking: 7/10
Historical Significance: 7/10