Retro Review: Legend of Bagger Vance

Is there a religion, magic and mysticism connected to the game of Golf? This new film from Dreamworks thinks so.

Will Smith stars as the spiritual wanderer named Bagger Vance in this little fable. This fable centers around Rannulph Junuh (Matt Damon), a golf legend in the 1930s Savannah, Georgia.

During his reign as the South’s premier golf player he leads the pack in signing up to fight in the First World War. The miseries of combat and the guilt brought on by serving his country in the trenches whittles down this brilliant athlete to a pathetic hermit and drunk. He loses his beautiful fiancé, Adele Invergordon (Charlize Theron) and all the greatness he brought to the game of golf.

He is a broken man.

One day after the War is over and Savannah has plunged into the Great Depression, Adele is forced with the greatest challenge ever presented to her. Her father commits suicide and his greatest dream of building the greatest golf resort known to man is vanquished. Adele is forced to sell everything she owns in hope of saving her father’s legacy. Her idea to save it is to hold an “exhibition” golf tournament where the greatest in the game will square off for $10,000 dollars.

As the plan reaches fruition, the city of Savannah insists that a local golf hero must play in the tournament as a representative of city. Adele is forced to turn to her ex-fiance and once more tries to pull the whole thing off.

“Bagger Vance” has a great story and is filmed with such elegance. The whole majestic setting reminded me of the great period pieces of the 1950s and 60s.

The tone and language was scripted so much like a script from back then it made me smile. Like in those famous period pieces, the actors would give each other long intense looks that meant so much then the action the look was representing. A brood or smile would not only enchant the audience but the character within the film as well.

Charlize Theron is magical in this film as she portrays a woman desperate but bent on staying within her character to pull off this miracle. I have loved how her range has expanded over the past couple years and is beginning to show quite the actress beneath. I truly believed she was Adele. Will Smith departs the action genre and portrays the guru within Bagger Vance as a humorous teacher who is just going with the flow. Bagger Vance is a lot like a Zen master. Smith gets all the great lines and makes us become apart of Junuh’s life.

I never have been much of a Matt Damon fan even though he seems to get all these dream projects. I never have fallen for his charisma even when he played Mr. Ripley and Private Ryan. In some of the key scenes I often believed Damon looked a little out of place. For instance, there is a scene where he is a slobbering drunk and he embarrasses the desperate Adele.

In that scene I never believed for one moment he had sunk as low as he claims. Damon isn’t rugged or tortured looking enough to capture that moment. There are also a couple of yearning looks he gives Theron which produced almost zero chemistry. This film is Smith’s not Damon’s.

I have always loved epic stories about reluctant heroes who must over come tremendous odds to finally reach enlightenment. But in this film there is a little alienation which may not appeal to every man, woman and child. I firmly believe that you have to believe in the myths associated with golf to be sucked into this film.

Often golfers will reflect on a hidden philosophy that links the world of golf with each of our lives. This is plainly evident and so eloquently put in the character of Bagger Vance and his teachings to the struggling Junuh.

Where the alienation may occur is how detailed that character comes across. Will Bagger be a delight to non-golf enthusiasts? I am not sure. With that question I will give two ratings for this movie.

Golf Enthusiasts (4.5 of 5).
Non Golfers (3 of 5).

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