On January 18th, 1989 Baptist Pastor Don Piper died. He was headed home to lead a church service when he was hit head on by an 18-wheeler on a rural Houston bridge. He was 38 years old. But that's not the end of Don's story. It's the beginning....
Paramedics and police officers at the scene found no pulse and pronounced him deceased. They covered the car where his body lay mangled and trapped with a tarp and waited for the coroner for 90 minutes. During that time fellow Pastor Dick Onerecker arrived and felt inspired to pray for Don. He obeyed God's call, crawled into the wreckage and began to pray. As his prayers led to him singing a hymn, something miraculous happened....the dead guy started singing too.
What follows is the true story of Don Piper and where he was for those 90 minutes and his excruciatingly painful recovery. As his body lay beneath the tarp, he tells how he experienced all the joys of being in Heaven. Coming back from that became an endurance trial not only for him but for his wife Eva and their three children. It's a story of hope and learning to lean on God and others and finding your purpose.
90 Minutes in Heaven reminded me of classic family films of the past. Not the big blockbuster kind but the simple down home stories. Maybe it was the positive feeling I got when watching them but 90 Minutes in Heaven is like that. Director Michael Polish, who also wrote the screenplay based on the book, has made something familiar yet new and inspirational.
It's a film where people will see some of their own stories. Everyone has or knows someone who has experienced tragedy or long hours in an ICU waiting room or sat near the bed of a loved one for weeks, maybe months. Most people sitting with loved ones in the hospital know there is usually a MacDonald's or Burger King not far from every hospital where the drive through stays open late. It's a love story about a husband and wife going through difficult times and then a breakthrough. This is real life.
90 Minutes in Heaven is an earnest, reverent account of Don Piper's story. Yes, the movie is long and seemingly drawn out to a fault but those wanting a faithful adaptation of the book will definitely be satisfied. Others wanting something inspirational will find a movie that flows like a meditation on life. They will find encouragement. Also, unheard of in Hollywood, this is a movie where all the profits will go to various charities.
Eva Piper is described by her husband as the hero of the story and she is. To her credit Kate Bosworth's Eva is a hero but never does the story shrink away from her stuggles, stress and fears which she portrays with just the right mix of vulnerability, gentle patience and determined focus. Bosworth's portrayal of heartbreak feels real. Once the Pipers were a couple totally in love but now separated by something inexplicable. Bosworth as Eva asks Don tearfully where does he go as he lays there just staring. Pleadingly she tells the love of her life she misses her husband only to be met by silence. Her husband can only think about one thing. He wants to go home....leave this suffering and go home to the heaven he visited when he died in the crash.
I always like watching a movie on opening weekend with a full audience to see who shows up and to hear the reactions. The audience I sat with was nearly a full house and a mix of teens, adults, young and old, men and women. There were a few who voiced their "yes" out loud to acknowledge something inspiring. They laughed in all the right places and at one point during the scene where the Pipers and Onereckers meet after church, there were gasps from the audience at a certain revelation about Don's story. Everyone was into what was happening.
There was a definite change in the audience when it came to the part when Don, at the encouragement of his friend David (Jason Kennedy), tells Eva about going to heaven. You could have heard a pin drop. Where before you could hear the occasional shifting of someone in their seat or popcorn bags crunching etc., no one and nothing was moving. Except for Don and Eva's voice, everything went very still in the theater. It made me look around to see if people were breathing.
Then there is this shining moment in the film. Previously, Hayden Christensen's scenes of a long torturous recovery and emotional and spiritual desolation were totally believable and well played. His hospital prayer asking "why" was heartwrenching. However, it is this scene of finally describing heaven to Eva and finally showing his appreciation of her that was artfully, skillfully acted and filmed.
As the camera closes in first on Don and then Eva we can see the many months of emotional separation between husband and wife begin to dissolve before our eyes in their faces. Christensen delivers the telling of Don's heaven experience with such assured yet understated passion that it feels genuine. Bosworth's response is soulful and true. The moment is completely compelling and powerful.
Whether you're a believer or someone in need of inspiration or someone looking for an entertaining drama about a family facing real life challenges, it's worth the trip to 90 Minutes in Heaven.
90 Minutes in Heaven is rated PG-13 for injury and hospital scenes and is produced by Giving Films and Emmett Furla Productions.