Sports psychologist David L. Cook wrote a book called Seven Days in Utopia: Golf’s Sacred Journey about a young golfer who runs away after a meltdown at a big tournament, gets stuck in a small town, and meets a mentor who was once a champion and teaches him important lessons that he takes with him back to the next competition.
Doesn’t that sound a lot like Cars?
It’s still a good story. And I give Cook and co-writer/director Matthew Dean Russell credit for avoiding some of the usual sports-as-metaphor details. They refrained from making their main character spoiled or hot-headed. Even more unusually, they refrained from making his father a monster. Both are well-intentioned but misguided. This eliminates the easiest routes to dramatic intensity but demonstrates a confidence in the characters that is most welcome. It would be too much to say that adds subtlety to the story. This story is not subtle in any way; its biggest failing is that it does not trust its audience enough. It hammers its points home and then does it a few more times, and then a few more, just to make sure. If only the filmmakers had trusted their audience as much as the movie’s teacher trusts his student.
Lucas Black (“Cold Mountain,” “Friday Night Lights“), who co-produced, plays Luke Chislom, a young golfer who has been driven all his life by his father. When they get into an argument on a crucial shot in an important competition, Luke’s father walks off the course and Luke snaps his club in half and runs away.
Swerving to avoid a cow in the road, Luke crashes his car into a fence in the small town of Utopia, Texas. While the car is being repaired, a local rancher named Johnny Crawford (Robert Duvall) offers to give him some golf lessons to help him “find his game.” In true Mr. Miyagi “wax on, wax off” fashion, many of these lessons do not involve hitting a golf ball with a golf club. They are lessons about focus, faith, patience, confidence, and grace. They have Luke pitching washers, taking the controls of a plane, painting a picture, and literally burying the lies that hold him back. And there’s a pretty girl in town who is training to be horse whisperer and seems to know something about whispering golfers as well.
Black is an engaging performer and he and Duvall have an easy, natural quality together and many scenes have a refreshingly quiet quality, not so much of volume but from a spirit of humility and sincerity. Luke is a good kid, open to learning but not naive, and the film will reward those who are willing to give it a chance.
Parents should know that this film has tense family confrontations, a car accident with a minor injury, a crude insult, a reference to alcohol abuse, and character who struggles with shame and despair.
Family discussion: Why “find your game” instead of “improve your game?” What was the most important lesson Johnny taught Luke? Did Luke make the putt? What lies will you bury?