Seven Days in Utopia is a new religious drama directed by Matt Russell, starring Robert Duvall, Lucas Black and Melissa Leo. This star studded cast makes for more than the typical Christian film.
The film script is based on the book, Golf's Sacred Journey: Seven Days at the Links of Utopia, written by David Lamar Cook, a psychologist who received a Ph.D. in Sport and Performance Psychology from the University of Virginia. It was actually filmed in a small Texas town with the real name of Utopia. (Some of the scenes were shot in Fredericksburg, Texas.) Utopia is about 80 miles from San Antonio. The film was released last September (2011). I discovered it last week on the shelf of my public library. I was attracted to it for one primary reason – Robert Duvall is one of my favorite actors. In my judgment, his role in The Apostle is still the finest portrayal of a minister in modern film.
This film is the fictional story of a young golfer who blows a tournament lead by shooting a 14 on a critical hole at the end of match play. In his rage and disappointment the young golfer flees only to have a car accident in a pasture near Utopia, Texas. What he discovered in Utopia was God and himself. The plot here is quite simple, the story is common and the genre is predictable. But the film is still very good. Contrary to so many Christian films Seven Days does not provide a “simple” gospel answer but rather the searching of a young man who comes to believe in God and himself. Admittedly, this is not stunning character stuff but it is not that bad. Robert Duvall is the young golfer's mentor. He helps the young man find the meaning to his life through a series of unusual learning experiences.
The film received some very poor reviews from film critics. (No surprise here, since most professional critics do not like films that put religion on screen!) Yet The Hollywood Reporter said that in this "inspirational tale about finding God through golf, Seven Days in Utopia must be given full credit for coming up with something new in movies.” I agree. The Hollywood Reporter adds, "This homemade, whole milk, finger-lickin'-good, G-rated piece of American cheese isn't the sort of thing most urban viewers are accustomed to consuming but, if Visio Entertainment knows how to reach down-home Christian audiences, Utopia will find open arms across a wide swath of the Bible Belt and through the South." While this might be true the film just might touch some who are not living in the Bible Belt!
The New York Times described Seven Days in Utopia as "a stultifying hybrid of athletic instruction film and Christian sermon." Golf.com questioned whether it was "the worst golf film ever made?”
Christianity Today, the most-read evangelical magazine, criticized the film for "lazily rehashing clichés" and for failing to deliver "genuine characters or plausible storytelling.” After watching the film, with what I admit was profound enjoyment, I find myself wondering why such reviewer’s miss the actual “feel good” value of a film that presents faith in such a positive light without using formulaic Christian solutions that I have come to expect. Ironically, the New York Post gave the film two out of four stars and said that Seven Days in Utopia "goes down more smoothly than you'd imagine" thanks to Duvall's performance and an "excellent supporting cast." Others praise Duvall’s acting for saving the film but refuse to believe the script has any real merit at all.
This film was clearly produced on a low budget with the clear intention of communicating a message about faith in Jesus Christ. The opening begins with Isaiah 30:21.
And when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left, your ears
shall hear a word behind you saying, “This is the way, walk in it.”
The story follows this text to the end. The viewer is not handed answers in a sermonic form but rather shown how a journey of faith begins and grows, leading the young golf playing character to see and hear the voice of God in his own life. I frankly found this film intriguing and inspiring and some of you know I am not usually that positive about “evangelical” films.