I must confess that I'm very much tempted to say that the force truly is with Hayden Christensen in writer/director Michael Polish's inspired and effective recounting of the miraculous story of Pastor Don Piper (Christensen), who was declared dead at the scene of a horrific accident on January 18, 1989.
For 90 minutes, Piper's body laid under a tarp. As Piper would later share in a New York Times bestselling book that has sold over 7 million copies worlwide, during that 90 minutes he went to heaven and experienced more joy, love and peace than he'd never known.
Then, that thing called hope got in his way.
When a fellow pastor arrived at the scene and begin praying for Piper, a miracle happened and the long deceased Piper returned to a life he wasn't really sure he was ready to accept. Instead of the peace, joy, and love of heaven he returned into a body experiencing excruciating pain and a life to be filled with immense emotional turmoil.
It's hard not to picture him thinking "Can I go back?"
Despite his own resistance, Pastor Piper's wife Eva (Kate Bosworth) and his three children, along with friends from far and wide, unite to encourage his body and his heart and relentlessly support his efforts to work his way back to a semblance of the life he had before the accident.
While Christensen has always taken more than his share of grief for his high profileand widely criticized performances in the Star Wars films, you shouldn't have too much trouble setting that aside with his fine work in 90 Minutes in Heaven, one of the year's most satisfying films from the faith-based genre and more proof positive that the Samuel Goldwyn Company remains one of the nation's most dependable outlets for quality faith-based and family cinema. While not a faith-based distributor per se, Samuel Goldwyn has long had a remarkable ability to attract and empower films and filmmakers seeking to inspire and encourage.
Written and directed by Michael Polish, Twin Falls Idaho and The Astronaut Farmer), 90 Minutes in Heaven is gifted with a fine ensemble cast that includes Polish's real life wife, Kate Bosworth, as Piper's wife and strongest support. It's a different kind of role than we're used to from Bosworth, but she lives into it with a depth and authenticity not often seen in contemporary faith-based cinema.
Let's get one thing out of the way. If you're a non-believer or not a person of faith, there's a pretty good chance you're going to struggle a bit with the very premise behind 90 Minutes in Heaven whether that be simply the presence of heaven or, as many are destined to argue, whether or not Piper was actually dead on the scene at all.
I get it. I really do. I understand it completely, but to dismiss the film based upon disagreement with the premise is to dismiss the Star Wars films because you don't believe in The Force.
Set it aside and you'll find an emotionally honest and thought-provoking film that likely features Christensen's best performance to date including a believable, relaxed chemistry with Bosworth. Christensen nicely portrays the struggles of a man of faith whose faith is challenged in dramatic ways that threaten to derail his life and the life of his family. Though, I will confess that I found the Southern accent to be more than a little inconsistent.
At its very core, 90 Minutes in Heaven is very much about the fact that hope does live and it's brought to life through the angels in skin that surround us in our daily lives. The story is quite dramatic, yet the message is truly quite simple.
If 90 Minutes in Heaven has a weakness, and it does, it would most likely be in Polish's insistence in spending too much time slogging through Piper's laborious hospital recovery and the endless procedures and processes he had to endure. While these are valuable and powerful, they simply threaten to overwhelm the mid-section of the film's 120-minute running time.
90 Minutes in Heaven isn't a perfect film, but it's a film that will resonate with persons of faith who've ever journeyed down the healing path or simply struggled to maintain one's faith in the midst of life's many challenges. The film is arriving on HD Digital, Blu-ray, and DVD on 12/1/15 and is a worthy addition to your faith-based cinema collection. If you've read the book, the movie will challenge you and it will inspire you.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic