A movie for those who wish all that golf wouldn’t get in the way of Jim Nance’s hushed Masters sermonizing, Seven Days In Utopia views the gentleman’s game as a sweeping metaphor for family, faith, tradition, and the tranquility of the soul. (Thank goodness, because as an actual sport, it can’t survive on its merits.) Based on David L. Cook’s novel Golf’s Sacred Journey: Seven Days At The Links Of Utopia—Cook co-scripted, too, and appears to have accepted a less clunky title—the film is a Christian twist on Doc Hollywood, stranding a slickster in small-town America just long enough to get his car fixed and his head straight. Not a second of it is convincing—or compelling—but then the film is about “utopia,” a blandly idealized place unblemished by hardship, malice, sin, or errant golf strokes.
Leading a cast far stronger than most films of its kind, Lucas Black plays an up-and-coming golf superstar who implodes in spectacular fashion during a big tournament. As the highlights of his meltdown are replayed on every TV in America—such is the apparent ubiquity of the Golf Channel—Black drives off in a huff through deepest rural Texas, eventually crashing his car through a rancher’s gate in the city of Utopia. That rancher, played by Robert Duvall, turns out to be an ex-PGA rising star whose own career went into an alcohol-fueled tailspin. Duvall vows to help Black restore his game while he’s stuck in Utopia, but his larger task involves restoring Black’s faith and bringing him in line with the Creator.
Though his character’s past sounds as dark and abusive as that of his shady preacher in The Apostle, Duvall carries none of that residue with him in Seven Days In Utopia. All ghosts banished, he’s serene and avuncular, playing Mr. Miyagi to Black’s flustered Daniel-san. Need a lesson in patience and balance? The two go fly-fishing. Having trouble with the short game? Duvall instructs Black to paint the tree he wants to chip around. And grace under pressure? Nothing teaches that more effectively than going up in a prop plane and forcing Black to pull them out of a literal tailspin. Duvall is the magical caddy in The Legend Of Bagger Vance and the sanguine fly fisherman in A River Runs Through It. Add to that a love interest with a passion for horse-whispering, and Seven Days In Utopia pulls off a rare feat: The triple Redford.