The Legend Of Bagger Vance


Directed by: Robert Redford
Written by:Jeremy Leven
Starring: Will Smith, Matt Damon, Charlize Theron, Bruce McGill, Joel Gretsch, Lane Smith, Jack Lemmon
Released: February 8, 2001
Grade: B-

It's the great depression and the people of Savannah, Georgia are struggling.  Wealthy businessman John Invergordon poured millions into creating one of the world's finest golf courses only to go broke.  He ended his problems with a single bullet to the head leaving the property to his daughter, Adele (Theron) who is not relenting to the Council’s pressure for her to sell the land.

To help promote the course, Adele has organised one of the wealthiest exhibitions ever staged.  4-time U.S. Open and grand slam champion Bobby Jones will take on 5-time U.S. PGA winner Walter Hagen for the princely sum of $10,000.  The residents of Savannah are interested but want to be represented in the match - they want a local Southerner to take on the triumphant duo.

Rannulph Junuh (Damon) happens to be the man.  As a youngster, he won tournaments all over the country and looked set to be one of golf's great players.  But World War I then began and after enlisting for combat, he returned a changed individual.  His golf was never the same again.

A former love interest of Adele, Junuh wants no part of the match but that inner burning he'd long forgotten was resurfacing - that ultimate challenge between man and ball that can never be won.  His game is rusty and he just can't seem to find his swing until he comes across a mysterious gentleman named Bagger Vance (Smith) whose philosophies rub off on Junuh helping his game to return.

The Legend Of Bagger Vance could be compared in its own terminology - an up and down ride that featured a few birdies but just too many bogies.  There was much to like but ultimately the screenplay was the let down.  The film plays like a fairy tale which is evident from Jack Lemmon’s short introduction.  Just because it's pure fiction doesn't forgive the sappy dialogue.  Will Smith pulls out every quote in the book to the point where it becomes embarrassing to watch.  There's a moment on the 16th hole in the final round where Junuh lines up a shot from the woods and Bagger talks him through his demons.  It's way too much.

Golf fans are going to get more out of the film.  The two actors selected to play Bobby Jones and Walter Hagen (Joel Gretsch and Bruce McGill) are fantastic and both have the look, mannerisms and swing of the real Jones and Hagen.  Of the others, Charlize Theron stood out and her complicated relationship with Matt Damon was unexpectedly worth watching.  Damon had never before played golf prior to shooting and practiced non-stop for a month to the point where his hands were covered in blisters.  It shows dedication and apparently he's become a real golf nut since.  Will Smith again left me unimpressed and I cannot understand why he has top billing in this film over Damon.

Robert Redford's direction wasn't quite what I expected but I liked the style.  He immaculately captured the beauty of both the course and the era and the camera angles he used to follow the golf balls were entrancing.  Redford has also created wonderful tension by letting the crowd's emotions do the talking and watching them get excited, made me get excited.  Other crew worth complimenting are production designer Stuart Craig (The English Patient) and costume designer Judianna Makovsky (Pleasantville).  One thing I can't understand though is the annoying sound effect used for when the ball hits the ground after a drive.  Trust me, a real ball doesn't make that sound.

When you break it down, The Legend Of Bagger Vance is a story of life, love and golf.  It tries to tell us that golf is just a game and that life is the real challenge.  I agree completely but I think it's a fact most are already aware of.