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Saturday, October 25, 2014

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Susan Granger's review of 'Heaven Is for Real'

Published 5:16 pm, Friday, April 25, 2014
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Adapted from the bestselling non-fiction book, this story focuses on the bond between an affable Midwestern minister and his precocious 4-year-old son who insists that he went to heaven, where angels sang and he visited with Jesus.

In the farming community of Imperial, Neb., popular Crossroads Wesleyan Church pastor Todd Burpo (Greg Kinnear) works as a repairman, high school wrestling coach and volunteer fireman. He and his wife, Sonja (Kelly Reilly), have two children, Cassie (Lane Styles) and Colton (Connor Corum), and are constantly coping with the challenge of paying their bills. They're deeper into debt after Todd breaks his leg and suffers painful kidney stones, followed by Connor's ruptured appendix.

But Todd's belief is really tested when young Connor matter-of-factly describes going to heaven during his surgery. When the youngster adds details that cannot be explained rationally, Todd begins to question his own convictions, researching near-death experiences and consulting with a psychologist at a nearby college. His quest influences his sermons, which, in turn, upset skeptical parishioners, like Nancy Rawling (Margo Martindale) and Jay Wilkins (Thomas Haden Church), particularly when the press becomes involved.

Adapted with subtly wry humor by director Randall Wallace ("Braveheart") and co-writer Christopher Parker, it remains non-denominational/non-sectarian -- for the most part -- serving as an effective metaphor to raise provocative questions about the fundamental nature of faith and the almost universal desire for an afterlife.

What elevates this above recent religious films like "Son

of God" and "God's Not Dead" are skillful production values: writing, directing, cinematography, editing and, above all, acting.

It's Kinnear's appealing Everyman that makes the premise believable. Cherubic Corum's portrayal seems guileless and natural, while Hayden Church satisfies as Todd's friend/banker and Martindale scores as an angry, bitter bereaved mother. The only distraction comes from an awkward framing device involving Akiane Kramarik, a young Lithuanian painter whose portrait of Jesus resembles a pop star.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Heaven is for Real" is a sensitive, spiritual 7 -- recommended for family viewing.