by Tim Ross
The coolness in the morning air, the start of school and the closing of neighborhood pools all over Charlotte – summer is coming to an end. And with this time of year also comes the winding down of the summer blockbuster. Explosions are fewer, car chases are slowing to the speed limit and there isn’t a cape in sight.
The kinder, gentler movies of fall are right around the corner and leading the way is “Seven Days in Utopia,” a faith-based film starring Robert Duvall and Lucas Black, which unfolds like a Texas sunset. It’s a little too tidy and the characters aren’t quite flawed enough for it to be deeply compelling, but it’s certainly a pleasant diversion and a sign of the sort of dramas heading to cinemas soon.
Professional golfer Luke Chisolm (Black) is a talented but tempestuous player. Driven mercilessly by his father to become the perfect golfer, Chisolm has lost his way as a man. After an epic meltdown during a Texas tournament, Luke’s father – who also serves as his caddie – walks off the course and Luke flees the scene, driving aimlessly until he comes to a crossroads. In either direction lay small Texas towns.
One of those towns is called Utopia and, to no surprise, Luke heads that way and has a confrontation with a cow. The cow wins, forcing Luke off the road and into a field. His car wrecked and his future uncertain, Luke sits in the field in search of the next move, until John Crawford (Duvall) rides up on his horse and Luke’s makeover begins.
Like many contemporary faith-based films, “Utopia” toes the line between proselytizing and storytelling, and that’s a good thing. But where “Utopia” finds itself in the rough is by having so many predictable plot points. Johnny just happens to be an ex-professional golfer with his own demons. He just happens to own the only inn in town where Luke can stay and he just happens to have built a golf course where he can help teach Luke that golf is a game where one learns to be human, not a game where one learns to put the little white ball in the hole.
The film is generally well-acted with appearances by Melissa Leo, fresh off of her Academy Award for “The Fighter,” Brian Geraghty (“The Hurt Locker”) and Kathy Baker. Matthew Dean Russell, usually an effects coordinator for big-budget flicks, directs with a gentle hand.
Perhaps I’m just the sort of jaded moviegoer, used to special effects and impossible journeys, that this film is aimed at. Whether that’s true or not, it doesn’t quite capture me the way Luke’s love interest, Sarah (Deborah Ann Woll) catches fireflies on a warm Texas night, but it does live up to the inspirational potential of sports films as well as the aspirational potential of a redemption story. That can’t be all bad, nor could spending seven days in Utopia.