Release Date: September 11, 2015
Director: Michael Polish
Writer: Don Piper (book), Michael Polish (screenplay)
Cast: Kate Bosworth, Hayden Christensen, Hudson Meek, Bobby Batson, Elizabeth Hunter, David Clyde Carr, Catherine Carlen, Dwight Yoakam, Michael W. Smith, Gianna Simone, Michael Harding, Rhoda Griffis, Ashley Bratcher, Deena Beasley, Vanessa Cloke, Rob Demery
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 121 minutes
Production Company: Emmet/Furla Films, Giving Films, Samuel Goldwyn Films
I think it’s safe to say that no one in the history of existence would ever want to go to heaven briefly only to come back to earth. Once you’re in heaven, why would you want to leave? There’s no comparison, but coming back to earth would be like giving back 700 quadrillion dollars you’ve won (tax free) to shovel elephant crap for the rest of your life. It just doesn’t make any sense. So, I was extremely interested in witnessing the story in some form that dealt with Don Piper’s trip to heaven. The beginning was strong, and the ending paid off, but the journey to get there nearly killed me.
I’m sorry, but the casting of Hayden Christensen as Don Piper is possibly the worst I’ve seen in my life. Better casting would have been Miley Cyrus portraying Oprah Winfrey in her biopic. I also hated his casting for Darth Vader in the Star Wars prequels, but that doesn’t mean he can’t deliver a good performance. He did a fine job in Awake, which was released a number of years ago. However, in this film, his performance of a married thirty eight-year old male was completely wrong in every way, and in addition his fake mustache didn’t help either. His wife Eva Piper played by Kate Bosworth was much better. Bosworth played the part with deep concern nursing her husband Don back to health.
A complete stranger praying for another at an accident is believable, especially since it happened in reality. However, I didn’t like the way this was portrayed. If a man on the bridge was told by God to pray for a said soul, a visual or an audio representation would’ve been sufficient. The worst part of the film is its middle. Even without a synopsis or a trailer, the title of the film should make its content quite obvious. Clearly, at some point, the viewer would want to see the representation of Don Piper’s heaven. As Piper returns from his brief trip to heaven, he narrates it to the audience but doesn’t show it. For hours that turn into days, and days to months, he struggles in the hospital screaming for peace. I couldn’t understand his pain enough to relate to him. He didn’t want to tell the masses what he experienced to not look crazy, but if you’re talking to the audience as if talking about the past, at least tell us. For months he’s in a hospital bed in agonizing pain, but doesn’t tell us why he wants to die. All we’re left with is brief shots of light that were supposed to represent how special heaven is—such a wasted opportunity.
Towards the end of the film, Don Piper opens up to the people surrounding him. It makes sense to keep such information hidden from these people, but not from the audience. Imagine watching this movie: instead of Don Piper being the narrator, he’s sitting right next to you in the theater. He’s supposed to explain what’s going on with the film, but he doesn’t. Instead, the amazing experience he had in heaven is revealed only at the end. The ending was everything I wanted, but if his story and experiences were expressed earlier, it would’ve catered to the story better and done justice to his presence on screen. In the end, I think this is a fascinating story, and I’m glad I heard it, but the way it was presented in the film was stale. This film is an example of too many missed opportunities of truly showing what Don Piper went through; it’s clear I’ll have to read the book to get the true experience.