90 Minutes in Heaven Review: Reality vs. the Supernatural

When I was in high school wrestling with what I believed, I would see constant images on the TV of Christians who had huge hair, or hair form-frozen into a perfect shape, crying eyes overloaded with heavy dark mascara, and a never ending series of prayer pleas that ended with requests for money attached to promises of my needs being met. My life and experiences were also not as neat and clean as I perceived the lives of many strong Christians that I personally knew to be.

What I saw just didn’t seem real. I knew God was real, but nothing in my life looked anything like these images and observations that kept confronting me.

I was searching for anything that would validate that as I came to grips with this real God that a life as a Christian could be REAL.

In some ways, similar observations can be read in dozens of reviews that are done on faith-based Christian movies. FORCED, PREACHY (read: not relatable), TRITE, UNREALISTIC, RIDICULOUS, HAM-FISTED EXECUTION, PREACHES TO THE CHOIR, etc…

That’s not entirely true with 90 Minutes in Heaven.

Based on Don Piper’s bestselling book, 90 Minutes in Heaven: A True Story of Death and Life, this is a Baptist minister’s story of his 1989 car crash in which he was horribly injured and declared dead for 90 minutes. An hour and a half that Piper says he was in heaven. But, through the power of prayer, he is restored to life (and helped during many other challenging moments of his recovery). The movie is a chronicling of Piper’s journey. It should be noted that this story is the foundation for Piper’s subsequent career as an inspirational speaker and author. His story has gripped audiences for years.

Don Piper, author of 90 MInutes in Heaven

If other faith based movies have left audiences feeling warm and fuzzy, don’t expect to find that with this movie. It can be said that 90 Minutes in Heaven is encouraging, but the stark reality of Piper’s journey is not one that is encased in simple platitudes or quick answers. If the Kendrick Brothers recent release, War Room, tackled a difficult issue providing what seemed like easy answers, then 90 Minutes in Heaven deals with a difficult situation where there are no easy answers, but there is an abundance of PERSEVERANCE.

To this end, 90 Minutes in Heaven is extremely refreshing. As we travel with Piper through his recovery never once is what he goes through truncated by a Christian Band-Aid. This part of the story is as real and nitty-gritty as it gets. Frankly, it’s almost difficult to watch, but that’s exactly the point that is being laid out in front of us. We are supposed to feel uncomfortable.

It could also be said that 90 Minutes in Heaven wins on another front: the story is shown to us rather than told to us. Until the end, I can’t think of a single smidgen of expository or preachy dialogue in the movie. Kate Bosworth is extremely believable as Piper’s wife. Dwight Yoakam is great as the huckster lawyer who represents Piper and goes after the truck driver and company responsible for the accident. Veteran actor, Fred Thompson, makes a typically believable appearance and Christian music superstar, Michael W Smith does a credible job in his role.

Don Piper, author of 90 MInutes in Heaven

The downside is, Hayden Christensen is incredibly cardboard in the lead role of Don Piper. Maybe Piper, who makes an appearance in the film as well, is not a very charismatic guy in real life. So, Christiansen may have been trying to play Piper honestly. But, given his less than stellar performance as Anakin Skywalker, it’s kind of hard to decide if the approach Christiansen took may have just been his default acting mode.

Also, be forewarned, what is learned about heaven in this movie is neither new nor groundbreaking. It almost seems like a missed opportunity (obligation?), that is promised in the title of the film, to provide a compelling and gripping window into what Piper experienced in those 90 minutes.

90 Minutes to Heaven gets high marks for not whitewashing the terrible situation that Piper and his family faced. It is also clear that Piper overcomes (even if that doesn’t happen until nearly the end of the movie). Director, Michael Polish, accomplishes what few other movies in this realm do: it tells its story without being candy-coated.

Unfortunately, all of that is capped off with an ending that is dramatically disappointing, stale, and sadly predictable. Instead of ending on a unique note, 90 Minutes in Heaven wraps it up with a scene that is like so many other Christian movies.

Some movies are an acquired taste. And, some online portals (Netflix, Hulu) have come to the forefront of viewership because they are harnessing niche audiences with focused tastes, who would have previously been overlooked by movie studios and TV networks.

But movies about real life need to be believable. They need to be real. People care about people… Especially real people they connect with.

My prayer is that filmmakers continue to develop as storytellers as they meet with box office success. Well-told stories will meet with even greater success and be more satisfying to the audience.

I look forward to your thoughts and comments below!

CCM Founder & Executive Producer
Doug Rittenhouse

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