90 Minutes in Heaven
Christian Movie Review – a Message to America from God?
This might sound strange for the beginning of a movie review, but I believe God is sending a message to America, and the content of this message is coming in the form of two verses from two films which are based on two miraculous true stories. God is doing something special in our culture right now. As the Narnia books says: “Aslan is on the move,” and this new faith-themed film 90 Minutes in Heaven is definitely a part of it — and in a way that I did not expect.
Let me explain.
On Wednesday night I screened the faith-theme film “Captive,” starring David Oyelowo and Kate Mara, that comes out next weekend (Sept. 18). There is a verse (Romans 5:20) that appears on-screen before the movie begins: “Where sin abounded, grace abounded much more.” “Captive” is based on the true story (which you can read about here).
“90 Minutes in Heaven” is also based on a true story, and this movie also has a verse from Romans appear on-screen before the movie begins: “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer” (Romans 12:12). The true story happened in 1989 to a preacher named Don Piper. While driving home from a Christian conference, he was killed instantly when a big rig veered into his lane and struck him head-on at highway speeds. He was pronounced dead on the scene by both the paramedics and the coroner who arrived later. 90 minutes after his death, however, after a passerby stopped and prayed for him, Don Piper miraculously returned to life. The film tells the story of the aftermath — both the miraculous joy and the horrible challenges that the Piper family faced.
Both movies — “90 Minutes in Heaven” and “Captive” — are based on true stories of God’s miraculous grace and power. Both movies begin with a verse from Romans — and the studios and filmmakers are entirely different, so there’s no way they collaborated on it. And the movies are releasing back-to-back, the first one, “90 Minutes in Heaven,” releasing today (which, by the way, is on the 14th anniversary of 9/11).
All of that, to me, is profoundly encouraging. God is sending a message of His grace to America — “where sin abounds, grace abounds more” — and an exhortation to “be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, and faithful in prayer.”
My review below the parental guidance section will explain how “90 Minutes in Heaven,” a superb film in every respect, powerfully communicates this reminder to “be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, and faithful in prayer.”
Parental Guidance Content at a Glance for this PG-13 rated film…
Sexual Content/Nudity/Themes of Sexuality and Romance: None.
Violence/Gore/Scary Content: The movie is PG-13 because the main character, Don Piper, is involved in a terrible car accident. We see his bloodied face and his wounds, and we see the wounds on his body as he slowly recovers for several months in the hospital. It is not extremely gory, but it is realistic enough to push the rating to PG-13. I think showing the severity of his injuries, however, was necessary to communicate the emotional power of his story.
Alcohol/Drug/Smoking Content: None.
(Review continues below)
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Entertainment Value and Film Craft
Hayden Christensen (“Star Wars: Episodes II and III”) and Kate Bosworth (“Superman Returns,” “Still Alice”) are phenomenal. Christensen portrays the physical and emotional agony with such realistic believability that I was wincing in some scenes and welling up with tears in other scenes just from seeing his facial reactions to his pain.
Bosworth wonderfully portrayed the inner struggle of Eva Piper, Don Piper’s wife, who, with sheer willpower, tries to remain the calm pillar of strength for her family in the midst of the crisis. But even Eva reaches the end of her rope at a certain point, and Bosworth traced that emotional journey wonderfully.
The cinematography was another big highlight. I loved, for example, the opening scenes and how they placed the camera in a tight angle inside the car, off to the side on Don Piper’s dashboard, as he’s driving in the rain. He’s struggling to wipe the windows and get a clear visibility and because of the fixed camera angle facing away from the road, we begin to feel the same panic because it very much feels like we’re riding in the car with him, but we can’t see the road either. The whole movie has many brilliant little moments like that, and you feel saturated in the story and in its setting from beginning to end.
The film might have benefited from a slightly tighter edit — perhaps a slightly faster paced, punchier impact — but I don’t really have any complaints about this film: the full emotional power of the true story came through crystal clear thanks to the highest quality of acting, directing, screenwriting, photography, and all of the other production values that make a film great.
Worldviews, Subtext, Symbolism, Theme
s of Redemption, Social Commentary, the Question of “Spiritual Edification,” Etc.
My introduction already summarized the heart of this film’s message: be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, and faithful in prayer. But this movie looks at this reminder from an unexpected angle: the vantage point of failure. The movie is about Christians, yes, but it’s not about perfect people. It’s about God’s perfect grace.
For example, we see, at various times, every major character finding God’s grace as they fall short of these commands to be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, and faithful in prayer. Yes, each character did these things very well at times, but the film doesn’t put them on a pedestal. We see their colossal failures in these things too, and that’s exactly the point: God’s grace meets us in our brokenness and enables us to do what seemed impossible to our hearts only moments before.
Conclusion: “90 Minutes in Heaven” is Worth Every Dollar You Will Spend at the Theater.
Frankly, I wish I had time to go back and see this movie a second time. To be clear: it is not lighthearted fare. In some ways it is hard to watch; the sheer agony that Don Piper endures is a heavy thing to witness. But by the time we get to the end, a believable joy creeps into the film’s atmosphere. The storm clouds begin to clear, and the emotional power of it is plausible and clearly felt. Just like the film “Captive” that I watched Wednesday, “90 Minutes in Heaven” is powerful. I walked out a different person than I was when I walked in.
My rating for “90 Minutes in Heaven”: [usr 8] (See my notes below on the rating scale.)
[NOTE from the author of this article: If you’re a fan of C.S. Lewis or U2, please be sure to read my new blog Stabs of Joy, which explores 18 C.S. Lewis books and 13 U2 albums to answer one question: how do we really experience Christ’s joy — and not just talk about it — during seasons of sorrow and difficulty?]
Note about my rating system for the movie’s film craft and entertainment value:
1 star = one of the worst movies ever made (the stuff of bad movie legends), and it usually (not always) has below 10% on Rotten Tomatoes
2-3 stars = a mostly bad movie that has a handful of nice moments; it usually falls between 10-30% on Rotten Tomatoes
4-6 stars = a decent movie with some flaws, overall. Four stars mean its flaws outweigh the good. Five stars mean equal good, equal bad. Six stars mean it’s a fairly good movie, with some great moments even, that outweigh a few flaws. A 4-6 star rating usually means it falls between 30-59% on Rotten Tomatoes (but not always).
7-9 stars = a rare rating reserved only for the best movies of that year; and a film must have a Fresh Tomato rating (60% or higher) on Rotten Tomatoes to be given 7 stars or higher, with a few exceptions (if I strongly disagree with the critics, which is the case for “90 Minutes in Heaven”).
10 stars = one of the best films of all time, right up there with the all-time greats (i.e. Casablanca, The African Queen, Gone With the Wind, Lawrence of Arabia, Star Wars Episode IV, Indiana Jones, etc.).
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