The Reel Review


Todd Burpo, a pastor in a small town in rural Nebraska, must find the courage to share his four-year-old son’s story with the public, after young Colton describes meeting departed loved ones in Heaven while he was unconscious during a life-threatening surgery. Greg Kinnear, Kelly Reilly (Yellowstone), Margo Martindale and Connor Corum star in this 2014 faith-based biopic based on the 2010 book by Todd Burpo and Lynn Vincent.

Connor Corum and Greg Kinnear in Heaven Is For Real

Showcasing an earnest, inspiring premise, committed performances by his cast and one super cute little boy, writer/director Randall Wallace (Secretariat, writer of Pearl Harbor and Braveheart) had all the tools to make a really charming albeit saccharine biopic. The best elements of the movie are the beautiful countryside (with Manitoba standing in for Nebraska) and when Colton shares with his family stories of meeting two people in Heaven that he’d never known about – a sister who died while in his mother’s womb and his paternal great-grandfather, who appeared young and without glasses. Colton cheerfully says in Heaven everyone is young and doesn’t wear glasses.

Kelly Reilly and Connor Corum in Heaven Is For Real

Those brief moments, many highlighted in the film’s sweet trailer, are the high points of an otherwise tedious slog of a film filled with unnecessarily heavy-handed preachiness, sinfully slow pacing and some ridiculously hokey images of Heaven that succeed only in pulling the viewer out of the story. That story, it turns out, is less about young Colton and more about his father – a pastor, garage door-installer, volunteer fireman and wrestling coach – and HIS crisis of faith – cringeworthy storytelling bait-and-switch. Regardless of the veracity of Colton’s story, this film adaptation feels phony.


Colton Burpo in 2023

• After attending Bible college in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Colton Burpo moved to Avon, Colorado, where he is studying to become an electrician when not doing ministry.

Beth, Kevin and Alex Malarkey

• In 2015, the ironically-named Alex Malarkey, who was credited as co-writing the 2010 bestseller “The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven” with his father Kevin, confessed that the book about visiting Heaven during a 2004 car accident/near death experience that left him a quadriplegic was a lie his father and he concocted to get attention. The book, which sold more than one million copies, was immediately pulled from bookstores and Alex’s parents have since divorced.

Portraits of Jesus (left) and (right) Heaven, by artist Akiane Kramarik

• The “Prince of Peace” portrait of Jesus at the end of the film is the actual painting by artist Akiane Kramarik, who claims Jesus spoke to her when she was four years old, and paints images of Heaven that she claims have come from religious visions.


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