Sometimes the most important life lessons come from the most unexpected places. That’s certainly true in the new sports drama Seven Days in Utopia, which encourages its audience to look past its secondary golfing theme to embrace its all-important message: ridding yourself of fear and living in the moment, without worrying what other people will think of you, is the best way to succeed in life.
Seven Days in Utopia follows down-on-his luck professional golfer Luke Chisholm (Lucas Black), soon after his mid-tournament breakdown garnered national headlines. Since it seems likely that Luke ruined his career with his televised meltdown on the course, he drives out to the Texas back-roads to blow off steam. Distracted, he drives through the pasture fence of rancher Johnny Crawford (Robert Duvall) in the small town of Utopia.
Seeing Luke needs a change in attitude, Johnny offers the young golfer the incredible offer to spend the next seven days with him in Utopia to change his outlook not only on golf, but life as well. After discovering that Johnny was once a professional golfer as well, Luke decides to take him up on the offer. In the process, he learns valuable lessons about heart and faith from not only Johnny, but the townspeople as well, including Lily Hawkins (Melissa Leo) and her daughter, Sarah (Deborah Ann Woll), for whom he develops a romantic interest. The most important lesson he learns is that becoming who you were meant to be has everything to do with how you approach the game, and nothing to do with winning.
Seven Days in Utopia is unique from other sports dramas in the fact that filmmaker Matthew Dean Russell, who made his writing and directorial debuts with the movie, decided to focus the story of Luke’s evolution as a person, instead of just as a golfer. Russell perfectly captures the inspirational message that writer David L. Cook included in his novel, Golf’s Sacred Journey: Seven Days at the Links of Utopia, on which the film is based-while people initially view crises in a negative matter, they can ultimately change people’s outlook on life. In the beginning of the film, Luke thinks his breakdown on the golf course will end his career, but with Johnny’s mentorship, he realizes that not all hope in life is lost. Johnny inspires Luke enough as a friend and a teacher to remind him that success doesn’t depend on how many trophies he wins; it’s based on his outlook on life and the game.
Luke is a relatable character in the sense that he realizes he needs to overcome his insecurity, frustration, fear of failure and the need to continuously please his father, Martin (Joseph Lyle Taylor). He comes to the conclusion that winning every tournament just to satisfy his father isn’t the right reason to win. He also realizes that unlike his father, who always pushed him to do better just for the glory of the win, he has a mentor in Johnny who really cares about his well-being. Johnny provides the young golfer with moral wisdom and inspiration to do his best because he truly enjoys the game of golf, and not because he wants to impress everyone by winning.
Duvall and Black have a great chemistry on-screen together, which they carry over from their previous two films that they co-starred in, Sling Blade and Get Low. Not only did the two actors emotionally connect to their characters, but they also seemed as though they were truly friends. Much like Johnny wanting to share his playing experience and self-redemption with Luke, Duvall once again provided Black with guidance on acting. Black, like the Academy Award-winning actor, brought a grounded, honest humanity to his character.
Not only was Black an excellent choice to portray Luke for the emotional arc of the character, but for the athletic aspect as well. He plays golf when he’s not acting, so not only does he comprehends the difficulty of wanting to succeed in the game, but he also understands the mechanics of the putt. Playing golf in real life brought a believability to the scenes where he was on the course, trying to improve his game.
While some audiences may be initially turned off by the golf theme in Seven Days in Utopia, the film surprises by not solely focusing on the game. Russell made the smart decision to instead focus on the bond between Luke and Johnny, and the message that everyone needs a friend for guidance. The characters’ bond was solidified by the natural chemistry between reunited co-stars Duvall and Black.
Seven Days in Utopia is one of the most unique sports dramas in recent years, as its meaning surprisingly applies to many aspects of life. While on the surface, the story appears to chronicle an aspiring golf champion as he confronts his fear of losing the game, the film goes much deeper to show that courage and trust is needed to realize long-term dreams. It also proves that believing in yourself and building positive family and peer bonds is more important than continuously being the best at everything.
The message that winning isn't the most important aspect of life, as well as the chemistry between lead actors Robert Duvall and Lucas Black, make the film very enjoyable.