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The Independent Critic

Robert Duvall, Melissa Leo, Lucas Black, Brian Geraghty, Robert Bear
Matt Russell
David Cook, Matt Russell, Rob Levine, Sandra Thrift
Rated G

120 Mins.
Utopia Pictures

n  Beyond the Game – A look at finding the “sweet spot” in golf . . . and life

n  PGA Certified – PGA golfers on the quality of play depicted in the film

n  Who’s Your Johnny – Professional athletes, sports commentators, actors, writers on the importance of mentors in their lives

n  PGA Certified – PGA golfers on the quality of play depicted in the film

n  Who’s Your Johnny – Professional athletes, sports commentators, actors, writers on the importance of mentors in their lives

 "Seven Days in Utopia" Review 
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Fans of Indy's own Heartland Film Festival, especially those with a faith-based background, will likely find much to love about Seven Days in Utopia, a surprisingly star-studded yet unashamedly faith inspired film about a promising golfer named Luke Chisholm (Lucas Black). After a meltdown at a major tournament, Luke flees from the scene and from his high-pressure father (Joseph Lyle Taylor) and ends up in the tiny Texas town of Utopia, population 373 (No, wait. 375). Once in Utopia, in the type of coincidence always found in these types of inspirational flicks, Luke finds himself welcomed by Johnny (Robert Duvall), a lesson-spewing rancher with a past not that far removed from Luke's. "Spend seven days in Utopia," Johnny advises.

And so Luke does.

Similar in tone and sentiment to The Ultimate Gift, a Heartland Film Festival favorite that buzzed through theaters rather quickly before finding tremendous popularity in the faith-based market, Seven Days in Utopia is far more upfront and preachy than The Ultimate Gift but succeeds on the strength of its ensemble cast led by Robert Duvall. Duvall could play this part in his sleep, but helps Seven Days in Utopia transcend its paint-by-committee script and refreshing yet occasionally jarring lack of dramatic tension.

On a side note, Lucas Black is so strong here that you can't help but think that he'd have been a much better choice as the lead in The Ultimate Gift, a film held back by Drew Fuller's too timid performance.

If you've never found yourself in a Christian bookstore, it's a fairly recent trend in Hollywood to create these low and modestly budgeted faith inspired films with at least a couple modestly well known names who help the project get, at the very least, a limited nationwide release and, almost certainly, a tremendous marketing push for home video. With your typical low-budget indie cast, Seven Days in Utopia would have been a well meaning yet mostly forgettable flick. In the hands of Oscar winners Duvall and Melissa Leo, along with Black, the film is a feel good and family friendly flick that will appreciate its emphasis on positive values and character development.

Those who avoid overtly preachy films may be a tad turned off by the film's final third, yet it's also arguable that by then you will have become so completely absorbed in these characters that you'll be willing to go along for the ride. Part of the reason it works is that director Matt Russell avoids the whole idea of preaching for preaching's sake. Instead, the faith that comes alive in Seven Days in Utopia is borne out of the characters and, in particular, Duvall sells it perfectly. Already widely known as a faith inspired actor, Duvall's convinces as a man who recognizes where his life went wrong and who has taken virtually every opportunity in his life to make amends. Much like his own The Apostle, Duvall's preachiness is less about evangelism and far more about living out his own testimony and, hopefully, inspiring a few others along the way.

Lucas Black is terrific as the young golfer, while Duvall reminds everyone that he remains one of the best actors working today. Melissa Leo shines in a relatively bit appearance, while Deborah Ann Woll and Brian Geraghty are memorable in supporting appearances.

Director of Photography M. David Mullen creates one of the most beautiful golf films while not losing sight of the film's transcendent objectives, and the original music by Klaus Badelt and Christopher Carmichael exudes that sense of inspiration and journey that perfectly companions the film.

While it's unlikely that Seven Days in Utopia will find much in the way of critical success, it's a film that will prove remarkably pleasing to its target audience of families seeking hopeful, inspiring and lesson-filled cinema that's safe for all ages. The film is G-rated and, at 120 minutes, is a terrific way to spend an afternoon with the family. If you get a chance, support the film in theaters. If not, plan to check it out once it hits home video.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic