Although it’s centered around a fascinating true story, 90 Minutes in Heaven is plagued by an uneventful and padded out two hours. That title is actually quite misleading, especially as someone who was unfamiliar with the real life story. Only a short amount of time is spent in an area representing the afterlife. By the time I finally saw these scenes, I was already exhausted after spending time with the main characters on Earth. I’m sure that this film was made with the best of intentions. However, what works within the confides of a book does not always effectively translate to film.
The event behind the film’s title is one that could have made for a thought-provoking story. After being pronounced dead following a car accident, Baptist preacher Don Piper (Hayden Christensen) is miraculously brought back to life. During the time in which he was deceased, Piper claims to have visited heaven. His frustration with his resurrection causes friction in both his recovery and his relationship with wife Eva (Kate Bosworth).
Like the majority of faith-based films, 90 Minutes in Heaven comes off as a film that exists solely to preach a message. I understand that the film is appealing to a specific demographic, but it’s frequently overbearing. In the sequence leading to the crash, there’s a book that Don glances at entitled “I Believe in a Great God.” I’m sure this was true to the real incident but it’s such a miniscule detail that I couldn’t help but feel like I was being browbeaten. By the same token, there’s too many instances where the character voiceovers feel more like sermons than words taken from a screenplay.
The film requires that we as an audience buy into Don’s sincerity and sympathize with him. Thanks to Hayden Christensen’s performance, I couldn’t do either. His acting style does not mesh well with Don’s characterization. Don spends a good chunk of the film lying in a hospital bed, refusing to interact with visitors and staff. There’s reason for him to be frustrated given that he saw what he believes to be heaven. Unfortunately, Christensen does not bring any nuanced complexities to this potentially interesting character study. Most of his “performance” consists of annoying facial expressions and mumbled dialogue (which is also dampened by a laughable accent). Christensen does not deserve all of the blame, as there’s little attempt to provide prudence to his story. Even though we see scenes depicting heaven, little else is done to make his story convincing.
Unlike a book which relies on the reader to use their imagination, film is a visual medium that brings life to written prose. What you see is what you get and for a film that attempts to show the beauty of heaven, it’s rather unimaginative. Don’s car accident is the most imaginative sequence from a filmmaking standpoint. It was the one scene that got a genuine reaction out of me. Once again, I emphasize I knew nothing about this film prior to attending the screening.
Whenever I was ready to write the movie off, Kate Bosworth would step in to provide some sort of relief. While I felt nothing but indifference towards Don, Eva is the one character I found to be sympathetic. Her frustration continuously increases alongside Don’s self-isolation until she reaches her breaking point. Despite her impressive performance, I couldn’t help but become frustrated alongside her. This wasn’t due to her dilemma as much as it was due to the sluggish plotting. Instead of feeling inspired after I left the theater, 90 Minutes in Heaven felt like two hours of standing in line at the DMV.