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Movie Review

Golf is a mental game. And after scoring a 14 on the 18th hole in his first big tournament, no one knows that better than Luke Chisholm.

Now Luke wonders if he'll ever pick up a club again. Well, he knows he won't be picking up that club he snapped over his leg like a twig. But even the ones he hasn't broken are highly suspect.

After his meltdown, Luke speeds through rural Texas to clear his head. OK, he's still in the middle of his meltdown when he roars through Utopia, a tiny hamlet of 373 (plus two because someone just had twins). And losing a game of chicken with a bull parked in the middle of the road doesn't help matters much.

He's stranded while his car gets fixed. So when Johnny Crawford, a retired golf pro, challenges him with, "Spend seven days with me in Utopia, you'll find your game," Luke figures he's got nothing to lose.

What Johnny doesn't tell Luke in this movie based on David L. Cook's best-selling book Golf's Sacred Journey: Seven Days at the Links of Utopia, is that he'll be learning how to live life, not just play golf. Nor does he tell him that their practice sessions won't involve hitting very many golf balls.

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Positive Elements

Given the title, it's a good thing there's very little that isn't positive in Utopia. Through Johnny's wise and patient teaching, Luke learns the conviction, patience, discipline, emotional control and faith it takes to play golf well—and, more important, to live life well.

He does this in part by confronting the lies he's believed all his life. He has, for example, found his self-worth in his golf performance—and thought that failure in golf means failure in life since he believes his only purpose in life is to play the game. Anyone would believe that lie if they, too, had grown up with Martin, Luke' overbearing caddy/father who has pushed his son toward "success" since Luke was just a lad. And we clearly see the damage the constant high-level pressure on Luke does.

As Luke heals spiritually and emotionally through Johnny's instruction and the town's affection, he's far better equipped to face his strained relationship with Martin. Once the young man is free from finding his identity in golf—and relieved of the burden to please his well-meaning but insensitive dad—he's able to see the positives in their bond. Luke even asks Martin to caddy for him again, displaying his renewed trust and respect. Martin, in turn, apologizes for his domineering ways, and the two are reunited in a richer way than they'd ever been able to know previously.

Also in keeping with this theme of healing, Sarah, a young local woman whom Luke admires, says she wants to become a horse whisperer in order to heal damaged horses—and she says she'd like to help restore the occasional broken person too.

The camaraderie in Utopia is ideal, by the way. At least it is after Luke and local rabble-rouser Jake get their rocky relationship sorted out. (Jake is aggressively jealous of Luke, and Luke at first takes the bait.) Townsfolk respect and trust each other, and everyone knows everyone else at the local (probably sole) café. In fact, Utopians give new meaning to the phrase "doesn't know a stranger," especially when they welcome troubled Luke as one of their own, embracing him in his occasional "unloveliness" as he recovers.

I mentioned convictions earlier because they're a big thing for Johnny. And he teaches Luke that before he can go forward he has to know why he's doing what he's doing. Equally important is the concept of freedom—and it can be inferred that one leads to the other. Johnny also pounds it into Luke that we must overcome our failings and not let them weigh us down. By teaching him fly-fishing, he teaches him emotional control. And, lastly, we're confronted, as is Luke, but the weight of what we leave behind us. What we're to be remembered for.

Spiritual Content

Luke is not in Utopia by accident. Providence (read: God) brought him. At a fork in the road, he "happens to" choose the sign pointing toward the tiny town—seemingly because he hopes for something more in life than the slavish existence he's lived for a game.

Spirituality, occasionally subtle and at other times bold, infuses most aspects of Utopia. The film opens, in fact, with the words of Isaiah 30:21: "And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, 'This is the way, walk in it,' when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left."

Soon after, Johnny tells his protégé that God has a purpose for him, and that His truths will become Luke's heartbeat and the foundation for his new life. The old pro also mentions respecting tradition, but simultaneously valuing innovation and having a passion for truth. Later he has Luke write down all of the spiritual lies he's believed. Then Luke buries the paper to signify that he's discarded them and replaced them with truths. It's implied that in doing this he's freeing himself not only of the punishing standards of golf, but of the burden of living without a Savior. It's suggestive of Jesus' words in Matthew 11:29: "Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls." In learning to accept Christ's easy yoke of truth, Luke can lay down his own punishing lies. When Luke attends a church service—perhaps his first in a long, long while—we can infer that his gradual salvation journey is made complete in his acceptance of Christ.

Regarding the film's mantra, "See, feel, trust," David Cook told Plugged In that there's more to it than just letting your gut guide you or "getting out of your own way" in the middle of a big game: "The second meaning in the book and in the movie is that Johnny challenges [Luke], saying, 'You need to be on a relationship journey with God.' And then he pours this teaching into the kid. He says, 'You've gotta see God's face, feel His presence and trust His love—SFT.' So Johnny makes it a double meaning, and I guess that's one of the mainstays of the movie." To remind him of the concept, Johnny has Luke write "SFT" on golf balls he practices with, and he tells the young man that there's a "still small voice of truth" leading him.

Elsewhere, a Third Day song mentions being born again. People attend several church services, and Johnny makes sure to point out that he attended earlier in the day when he misses an evening service. A Bible is shown several times, and Luke's father says it's been a long while since he's read it—and that he might be overdue. Sarah says of her father's death that God works in mysterious ways. Johnny tries to talk himself into believing that part of God's plan included his ex-wife's infertility and their divorce. People pray before a meal. A "David and Goliath" story is mentioned. Metaphorical demons are said to be in a golf player's head.

Sexual Content

Sarah and Luke share an attraction that reveals an innocent sweetness not often portrayed in films today. When smitten Luke tries to gently kiss Sarah for the first time on a particularly romantic night, she pulls away, still considering what their relationship is to be. Her forethought and concern for both of their hearts is commendable—and greatly appreciated in an age when raging, unhindered hormones typically trump prudence. The two share a romantic date or two with no more physical contact than circumspect hugs.

Violent Content

Luke crashes his car through a fence to avoid the bull, leaving him with a minor head wound that bleeds slightly. Before the crash he throws his cellphone out the window, shattering the device. After the crash he smashes his car's windows with a golf club. During competition, Luke angrily throws his golf clubs and purposely breaks one of them.

Bull riding is shown and men are seen frantically dodging an angry bovine that knocks at least one of them with its horns. A brief fistfight erupts between several guys.

Crude or Profane Language

It's unscripted, according to a source close to the film, but what sounds like an s-word is exclaimed by a disappointed onlooker when Luke makes a putt. Johnny says "h‑‑‑" once. Jake says "dang."

Drug and Alcohol Content

Johnny mentions his past as an alcoholic, and the significant relationships (and possibly even the career) his drunkenness cost him. He keeps an empty bottle as a trophy symbolizing his soberness. A stray line from someone else references getting drinks later.

Other Negative Elements

The guys lay down a series of friendly (but still monetary) wagers. Luke taunts Jake with a line about "mutton bustin'," and then, "You know what us tour boys say about hicks and sheep, don't ya?" Manure (getting on folks) plays into the plot a couple of times. (But it's not so much exploited for laughs as it is merely accepted as a part of life in this small Texas town.)

Conclusion

"Who knew that golf could have such an effect on a man's soul?" Johnny narrates during the opening scenes.

His own answer is, "How can it not?"

Once we see how Johnny masterfully interweaves golf with the fundamental life examples he demonstrates to Luke, that answer makes perfect sense. Because with Johnny, all coaching methods translate into life disciplines that profoundly reach beyond the game and deep into Luke's choices, thoughts and character. Only Johnny could turn fly-fishing from a canoe, for example, into an object lesson in maintaining both one's golf swing and emotional balance off the course. Why was the fish caught? he asks Luke. The answer, which Luke doesn't yet know: Because the fish got angry and took the bait, and that took him out of his game.

And the lessons they just keep on coming, each more colorful, creative and useful than the last.

This movie shows us how lives are changed through learning patience, integrity, spiritual balance and faith in God—even in the midst of a culture that idolizes unchecked performance and achievement. So there's a lot to like in this small-town tale of emotional and spiritual growth—not the least of which is its conclusion: Avoiding the predictably saccharine finales that often plague sports movies and Christian movies alike, Seven Days in Utopia makes its final and perhaps best point through quiet understatement—and by leaving out an important detail. Or at least a detail that you would ordinarily think is important.

Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Christian Beliefs

Other Belief Systems

Authority Roles

Profanity/Violence

Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality

Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Episode Reviews

Credits

Rating

G

Readability Age Range

Author

Cast

Robert Duvall as Johnny Crawford; Lucas Black as Luke Chisholm; Melissa Leo as Lily; Deborah Ann Woll as Sarah; Brian Geraghty as Jake; Kathy Baker as Mabel; Joseph Lyle Taylor as Martin Chisholm

Director

Matthew Dean Russell ( )

Distributor

Visio Entertainment

Network

Performance

Record Label

Platform

Publisher

In Theaters

September 2, 2011

On Video

November 29, 2011

Year Published

Awards

Reviewer

Meredith WhitmoreSteven Isaac

We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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