I have nothing against a heartfelt inspirational film. I have nothing against a film that wears its Christian values on its sleeve. I certainly have nothing against a film that has Robert Duvall as its star. I don’t even have anything against golf movies. The thing is, some people do, so I mention these things up front.
Seven Days in Utopia is about a young golfer, Luke Chisolm (Lucas Black) who is facing a few demons that causes a major meltdown on the final hole of a tournament. His father is his caddy, and he’s also a bit of a stage mom, always pushing the kid too hard. The meltdown was so bad that the television networks would like him in another tournament just to see another meltdown.
Luke is driving in the country, consumed with bitterness and shame. Luke is preoccupied and confused, so a cow in the middle of the road is the last thing he needs. He’s got some cuts and bruises, and his car has some scrapes and dents. It’s Robert Duvall who discovers him, since it is his farm and he tends to all the temporary repairs. He is also aware of the famous TV meltdown and suggests a way to fix that as well.. It seems Duvall has a golf course on his farm as well. It seems he was a big deal in the game once upon a time. Duvall is retired, but clearly he is still passionate about the game. He knows Luke needs some guidance at this critical juncture. He proposes seven days under his tutelage and he will fix his game. Luke doesn’t know what to do, but Duvall’s beautiful daughter closes the deal. They already have a strong yet chaste connection.
I have mentioned that this a film that wears its Christian values on its sleeve. There are more and more films finding that this is a profitable and rewarding market. Duvall raises the pedigree of this kind of film. The film has greater integrity, because an actor of Duvall’s stature only takes roles with some substance. I will agree that Duvall is great in this film, and it is a good role for him. The film is not up to his standards. It is cute and predictable in all the usual ways until the very end of the movie. I will get to the end of the movie later.
Seven Days in Utopia plays out like The Karate Kid with Duvall playing the stern and wily taskmaster.
He devises clever games to trick Luke into doing things in a different way than the way he has been doing them. But Duvall is not just playing psychological tricks. He also seeks to make Luke more spiritual. Luke’s relations with the daughter are more spiritual than sexual as well. Lucas Black works well in his scenes with Duvall (they have done three movies together).
The audience for Christian films wants their movies to be wholesome and full of positive religious messages. The trick is to not be heavy-handed or boring, because that defeats the purpose. These films are not so much about preaching to the choir but to create a new audience. The purpose is to expand beyond the Christian market and reach a wider audience.
Here’s the problem. If you want to reach a wider audience, you need to make better movies. When you focus too much on a message, the art of filmmaking gets lost. There have been many great spiritual films, but they have been made by true artists who were consumed by the art of making a film. In most cases they did not think about the audiences but their own inner compulsions.
This is not a great work of art, but it goes down easy. The life lessons are sound and helpful to us all. The film concludes with the big tournament with numerous real life golf names. It plays out the usual sports clichés. This leads us up to the climatic moment that happens in all sports movies. Here is where something truly unique happens. I won’t tell you what that is, but I will say there is an actual website devoted to the ending. The message is clear. What are the most important things in life? Duvall is a sort of guru who hopefully can show us all the answer to that question.