I would imagine this is one of the most difficult best-selling books to be adapted in the past few years. As we continue the 2014 religious theme, “Heaven is for Real” is the only one of the major releases set in modern times.

Based on the book by Todd Burpo, a preacher in small town Nebraska coming to terms with his 4-year-old son’s claims of visiting heaven, is quite the simple page-turner.

The film version, directed by Randall Wallace (“We Were Solders”, “Secretariat”) skirts around much of what drew me into the book. Typically, I don’t like having the knowledge of the book to compare to the film, but as cinematic adaptations go, those unfamiliar with the book might not see it as rushed as I did.

After a near-death experience, Todd (Greg Kinnear) and Sonja (Kelly Reilly) Burpo’s 4-year-old son Colton (Connor Corum) begins recounting his experience meeting Jesus and explaining details he would never have knowledge of or been present for.

Todd is a local volunteer fireman, wrestling coach, handyman and pastor.

He begins to question his own faith, especially from the pulpit, as the world begins to talk and revel in Colton’s revelation. The church becomes uncomfortable with the press and talk of the town, as Todd begins to wonder exactly what to believe.

While the book is a short read, there is still lots of descriptive events that get lost in translation here; the Burpos have a lot of trials and tribulations and, granted, seeing numerous examples of those on repeat in film could certainly lose the audience.

The thought process between Todd hearing the information from Colton and what he does with it is very much sped up in the film for time restrictions.

One of the most important elements of “Heaven is For Real” as a book or film is precisely that we all have questions and it’s good for those who believe and nonbelievers to question things.

One of the most memorable scenes in the book is when Colton reveals knowledge of a miscarriage that Sonja had before Colton was born. The film plays the scene just right, but I felt it needed to happen earlier in the story as it does in the book.

The performances here are adequate, not overly dramatic, and Kinnear paints Todd as a real human being who many will be able to identify with as he struggles with the many questions and difficulties he is facing. The film could have spent a little longer developing the characters and the visualized scenes of heaven, and Jesus visiting Colton would have been better left to the audience’s imagination.

Final thought: Those unfamiliar with the book will find this more emotional than those who have read it.


Starring: Greg Kinnear, Kelly Reilly, Thomas Hayden Church

Grade: B+


Dustin Chase is a film critic and associate editor with Texas Art & Film, which is based in Galveston. More reviews are available at texasartfilm.com.

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