Strong biblical worldview, but weak in key areas
|Overall Faith and/or Biblical Relevance|
|Faith-compatible Depiction of Characters and Character Relationships|
|Faith-compatible Depiction of Situations|
|Family Viewing Suitability|
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Based on a true story, 90 MINUTES IN HEAVEN recounts Texas Baptist pastor Don Piper’s death-to-life testimony following a horrific accident while driving home from a church growth conference in Houston in 1989. It is directed by Michael Polish (THE ASTRONAUT FARMER) and boasts a cast of several well-known actors and musicians, including Hayden Christensen (STAR WARS, EPISODES II & III) as the 38-year-old Don Piper; Kate Bosworth (STILL ALICE, REMEMBER THE TITANS ) as his dutiful wife, Eva; Jason Kennedy (E! News) as fellow pastor David Gentiles; Sen. Fred Thompson (PERSECUTED, SECRETARIAT, THE GENESIS CODE) as interim pastor Jay B. Perkins; country music artist Dwight Yoakum as a slick lawyer; and Christian music star Michael W. Smith.
Opening in theaters nationwide on September 11th, 90 MINUTES IN HEAVEN raises important theological questions about life after death and recounts details of Piper’s New York Times best-selling 2004 biography—focusing on the difficult days of recovery from massive leg and arm injuries Piper suffered in the accident.
Overall Faith and/or Biblical Relevance
While some Christians may take issue with the recent spate of “heaven tourism” testimonies gaining national attention, there is nothing in the details of Piper’s testimony as presented in 90 MINUTES IN HEAVEN that veers from biblical orthodoxy. Piper doesn’t claim to have seen Jesus—only that His presence is strongly felt everywhere. And the recognizable friends and relatives that he encounters at the gates of heaven reinforce his understanding that eternity in the presence of Jesus is amazingly beautiful in ways that are beyond comprehension—a place that God is building for His followers, the prize that Christians shall receive. As in the Bible, there are streets paved with gold, and, for Piper, returning to this earthly realm is very difficult—precisely because heaven is so glorious. Echoing the sentiments of St. Paul, Piper’s message is that heaven is real—and a place to long for.
Despite the fact that 90 MINUTES IN HEAVEN does not clearly present the biblical teaching on how a person gets to heaven or comes to know Jesus, it does raise important theological questions about life after death and is a great conversation starter for Christians to share the Gospel with non-believers. It also carries the biblical message that people perish without vision, purpose and faith-driven hope.
Faith-compatible Depiction of Characters and Character Relationships
The characters in 90 MINUTES IN HEAVEN honor God with their love for each other and respect for others. Don Piper loves his wife, Eva, and dutifully calls her nightly at 10 p.m. when he is on the road. And he is a devoted father to their three children and thrives on serving others as a pastor and up-and-coming denominational leader. Eva is depicted as a very put-together and duty-driven woman—refusing to sleep in their bed until Don comes home—showing very little emotion as the story unfolds.
In the long and challenging months following Don’s accident—including 34 surgeries and accompanying excruciatingly painful rehabilitation—many family, friends and fellow church members faithfully minister God’s healing touch to Piper, despite his ongoing depression, despair, stubborn pride and general unwillingness to allow others to care for him. Here, the godly friendship between Piper and fellow pastor David Gentiles is depicted as one of encouragement and loving application of Gentile’s gift of administration in organizing an all-night prayer vigil on Don’s behalf. And the “get your act together and shape up” message that interim pastor Perkins delivers to Piper is much needed and long-overdue.
While Don’s mother won’t even visit him in the hospital room, his tough-as-nails, three-war veteran father poignantly echoes Christ’s substitutionary sacrifice by telling Don that he would give anything to trade places with him. Meanwhile, Eva’s parents step up to the plate to look after the children and, though the children are respectful and loving toward their father, they are regrettably kept away from him during his convalescence as the increasingly stressful situation takes a heavy toll on the Piper’s marriage and finances.
Faith-compatible Depiction of Situations
It’s understandable that many would expect 90 MINUTES IN HEAVEN to focus on Piper’s experiences in heaven. However, this is not the case as the story instead concentrates on Piper’s slow and painful recovery from the severe injuries he sustained in the accident. And while the various situations depicted in this long ordeal are certainly realistic and faith-compatible, 90 MINUTES IN HEAVEN suffers from slow pacing and an emotionally flat story with characters that will be difficult for many in the audience to relate to.
Here, the somewhat joyless but always well-dressed depiction of the Pipers and their friends, family and fellow church members presents a clean-cut version of Christianity that seems unnatural, constricting and strained. Even Piper’s impassioned sermon to fellow pastors at the church growth conference—followed by the sage advice he receives from a mentor to find his purpose—falls flat.
And while the wonder of heaven is hinted at early in the movie, it isn’t until nearly 100 minutes into 90 MINUTES IN HEAVEN that the audience gets the fuller picture of why Piper has been so reluctant to embrace life on earth and carry through with his calling to share his testimony and encourage others in the knowledge that heaven is real.
On the positive side, 90 MINUTES IN HEAVEN depicts Piper listening to Christian music while driving and shows him to be reciting a Christian creed at the moment he is hit by the semi-trailer. Then, a pastor who happens upon the scene is directed by God to pray for Piper, even though he has been pronounced dead. This minister prays for Piper, tells him his sins are forgiven and that God knew him as a Father and friend—before singing “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” over him.
Beyond this, there is a nice depiction of the Body of Christ coming together to support Piper and his family—with Piper eventually ministering to others in similar post-accident rehab situations and finding purpose in encouraging others. And in one of the sweetest scenes in the movie, Piper is able to stand up and dance with his daughter as promised.
Family Viewing Suitability
With a PG-13 rating, and coming in at 121 minutes in length, 90 MINUTES IN HEAVEN calls for parental guidance as some material many not be appropriate for children under 13. Numerous physical, emotional, spiritual and financial challenges are depicted in 90 MINUTES IN HEAVEN, including months of painful recuperation and ancillary infections, soaring medical costs, and debilitating depression, hopelessness and despair. And given that the wonder of heaven isn’t fully revealed until very late in the story, the film becomes tedious for viewers forced to wait in order to fully understand Piper’s stubborn refusal to fight for his life.
Despite this, 90 MINUTES IN HEAVEN offers the biblical message that one cannot have faith without hope. And it presents a great opportunity to sensitively discuss the all-important topic of life after death with children and non-believers alike.
Although there is much to commend in 90 MINUTES IN HEAVEN, unfortunately the positives are weighed down by slow pacing and very little emotional depth to the characters or their relationships. In many ways, the sterile flatness of 90 MINUTES IN HEAVEN feels like an after school television movie and satisfying moments of character vulnerability are few and far between. Even the few attempts to lighten the story with humor—Piper’s helplessness on a toilet, the family dog urinating on the floor, the huckster attorney—fall flat.
While 90 MINUTES IN HEAVEN offers some upbeat Christian, Country and Gospel music to lift spirits at times, it struggles to overcome a mundane script, slow pacing, uninspired direction and mediocre performances from what should otherwise be a solid cast.