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   THE LEGEND OF BAGGER VANCE (2000) 

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CAST
Matt Damon
Will Smith
Charlize Theron
Bruce McGill
Joel Gretsch
J. Michael Moncrief
Thomas Jay Ryan
Michael O'Neill
Trip Hamilton
Lane Smith
Jack Lemmon

DIRECTED BY
Robert Redford

PURCHASE


DVD




Original Novel




Time: 125 mins.
Rating: PG-13
Genre: Drama/Romance


Normally, I'm a big fan of Robert Redford's directorial style and the subjects he chooses to film. His films are strongly evocative of a specific time and place, which gives his storytelling an added depth and visual lushness that few directors are able to capture. When I saw the trailer for BAGGER VANCE I was definitely intrigued to discover what he would be able to do with this material. Especially with such a wonderful cast. Unfortunately, the finished product doesn't do any of their talent justice. It's not a bad film, it just doesn't say anything interesting or different. The characters are beyond superficial, each having their little part to play. There's no depth or motivation besides the fact that Damon must find himself again. The most character development we get is in the 10 minute intro, which sums up everyone's history and how we got to this point in time.

After that we're left with a lot of golf and even more soul searching, neither of which makes for an exciting story. Don't get me wrong, I don't need car chases and explosions to like a movie. However, I do require them to have an interesting plot and characters that at least seem like human beings. Redford's last film, THE HORSE WHISPERER, explores many of the same themes as BAGGER VANCE – crippling loss, regaining identity, repairing relationships – and manages to be engaging and touching. BAGGER VANCE barely scratches the surface of these issues, giving the audience just enough information to fill in the gaps, but not enough to truly feel anything for these people. The reasons behind Junuh's actions are too familiar and aren't really explored to my satisfaction. Maybe if we knew more about him before his identity was destroyed in the war, that may have been enough. But hearsay and newspaper clippings do not a character make.

The film opens with an elderly Hardy Greaves puttering away on a golf course explaining the events that led up to the most amazing golf competition he ever saw. It happened in Savannah during the depression and included two of the greatest golfers ever – Bobby Jones and Walter Hagen – and a local sensation, Rannulph Junuh (Damon), whose brilliant career was cut short by a stint in the first World War. Physically unharmed, but mentally crippled, Junuh disappeared from the planet, leaving Savannah and especially his girlfriend Adele (Theron) devastated. With the Depression at hand, Adele has to raise a heck of a lot of money or will be forced to sell her father's dream – the best golf resort in the South. Because the mayor and other town leaders want the golf course land themselves they try to stop the tournament from taking place. The only way they'll allow the tournament to happen is if someone from Savannah plays as well. There's only one man who has a chance to beat Jones and Hagen and that's Rannulph Junuh.


"I hear you lost your swing. I guess we got to go find it."

The only problem with that is Junuh is a drunk who hasn't swung a club in 12 years. Adele, who still hasn't recovered from his silence, but can't resist him, tries to convince Junuh to play using her feminine wiles. It seems nothing will make him agree, until the appearance of Bagger Vance, a man who agrees to caddy for Junuh for a mere $5, win or lose. After a night of duffing, Junuh tries to sneak out of town, but the enthusiasm of the people of Savannah makes him turn around. All their hopes are pinned on him. Besides, how bad could it be? It's just 72 holes. Well, after the first 18 it's clear to everyone that Junuh may have been a great golfer, but he sure isn't anymore. He manages to survive, but is 12 strokes back and will have to make up at least one stroke for every four holes to even stay in the competition. The only person who thinks he can win is 12-year-old Hardy Greaves (Moncrief) who refuses to believe that Junuh is washed up. Bagger is giving him the best advice he can, but it's just not sinking in to Junuh's head. Junuh wants advice about what club to use, not how to get over his demons.

Of course, once he begins to truly listen to Bagger about finding his authentic swing, things start to turn around. He begins to get some of his old confidence back on the course and in romance. Neither the course, nor Adell are as forgiving as Junuh hoped, but both begin to give a little and he is soon back in the game. He has regained his confidence, but stops listening to his inner voice and soon finds himself in trouble again. This time, with the game on the line, he's overcome with self doubt, with the fears and guilt that have plagued him for the past twelve years. This is the point where he must decide to either put the past behind him and start living his life again or give up on the world and his talent for good. It's not hard to guess what happens. The ending is a bit too pat for my tastes, but it is something of a fable after all.

I really wanted to like this movie more than I did, but I just couldn't. BAGGER VANCE is a movie that plays it safe, laying up in key moments that would have given it real power to touch your heart and be something special. It tried to be mystical, but never quite succeeds because Bagger really doesn't have much dialogue and when he does give advice it's the same old thing. It's nice to see Smith taking on non-action star roles, but I know he can do more and was disappointed he chose a role he could do in his sleep. The same goes for Damon. You want to relate to Junuh and see him win, but Damon isn't given much to do except be angry and sullen. Theron is mesmerizing as always and manages to give strength and vulnerability to her perfect Southern lady. She and Damon have chemistry, but it's not really explored, nor are you given much of a reason why she would pine for him for so long...except that he was talented and good-looking. I wish it was more like FIELD OF DREAMS where there was more of a payoff to Bagger's mystical advice. I'm glad Junuh found himself again, but that kind of ending is better as a book than a movie.

All in all, there's nothing terribly wrong with this movie, there's just not enough right with it either. If you like the actors and enjoy watching golf, you'll probably enjoy this enough.



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