“Heaven is for Real” is one of the better faith-based films in recent memory.
It presents some compelling theological arguments with a first-rate cast and, for the most part, good direction.
The film is based on the true story of a Midwestern couple, Todd and Sonja Burpo (Greg Kinnear and Kelly Reilly), whose 4-year-old son Colton (Connor Corum) nearly dies.
Colton survives and begins to tell stories of visiting heaven and meeting Jesus during his near-death experience.
The stories test the faith of Todd, the town’s charismatic preacher, who wants to believe his son but can’t fathom how this is possible.
Things are further complicated when the story gets national attention, much to the dismay of Todd’s congregation (including Thomas Haden Church and Margo Martindale) who move to oust him from the church, which would only add to the family’s financial woes.
Director Randall Wallace has a good track record with films based on true stories (“Secretariat” and “We Were Soldiers”), and when he keeps the film focused on the family and small-town interaction, “Heaven is for Real” is at its best.
When Wallace tries to “visualize” Connor’s near-death experience, “Heaven is for Real” loses its way. Fortunately, those moments are kept at a minimum, allowing this cast to shine.
Kinnear does a good job of capturing Todd’s inner struggles. Corum is believable as the boy, never straying into that overly cute movie kid territory that sometimes derails films.
It all makes “Heaven is for Real” ultimately more than just a film about faith. It’s a film that shows how a strong family can get through even the darkest of times.
Also in theaters
This week’s other new release, “Transcendence” (D+), also features a strong cast with a story that tries to present a compelling argument – this time about the dependency of technology.
Unlike “Heaven is for Real,” it never really clicks and grows progressively hokey and dull.
It’s a waste of a lot of talented people.
“Transcendence” tells the story of Will Caster (Johnny Depp), a scientist working on the advancement of artificial intelligence who is left for dead after an attack by an anti-technology group.
As Will’s condition worsens, his wife and colleague Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) and their friend Max (Paul Bettany) come up with a plan to download Will’s memories into a computer – allowing him to become an experiment in his own studies.
At first it appears the plan is a success, but as the computerized Will’s quest for knowledge becomes an attempt to gain more power, things spiral out of control.
The cast also includes Morgan Freeman, Cillian Murphy and Kate Mara, but the cast’s best efforts can’t overcome the film’s shaky script.
“Transcendence” wants to show the dangers of technology, but it winds up leaving more questions. The biggest one comes early when Will’s attackers choose not to kill him immediately, but leave him to die slowly – which seems odd because it allows him the chance to put his affairs in order. Wouldn’t a quicker death ultimately help their cause more?
But it doesn’t stop there.
Depp spends most of the film as a modern-day cross between Max Headroom and Hal from “2001” delivering hokey lines that feel like they have been downloaded from the cliche handbook.
Hall is one of the more underrated actresses working today, but she is given so little to work with – playing a character whose grief is used as a crutch to explain some huge blunders that happen only in film.
As computer Will’s powers increase, the film goes further and further off track, becoming an absurd mess that isn’t even able to take advantage of some unintentionally funny moments that could have at least livened things up.
Instead, it all becomes one of the worst things that could happen to a film that wants to make its audience think. It evolves into a snooze fest that will have audiences checking out long before the closing credits appear.
“Transcendence” is rated PG-13 for sci-fi action and violence, some bloody images, brief strong language and sensuality and is now playing at the Regal Greenwood Mall Stadium 10 and Highland Cinemas in Glasgow.