The Legend of Bagger Vance

Directed by Robert Redford
Starring: Will Smith, Matt Damon, Charlize Theron, J. Michael Moncrief, Jack Lemmon.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some sexual content.

Review by Matt Heffernan <matt@filmhead.com>
November 5, 2000

No matter how hard some films may try, no matter how good their intentions, success is elusive. Not just commercial success (that can happen almost by accident), but artistic success. Is the film worthwhile? Does it succeed at achieving its goals? Is it possible to make a two-hour film in which the last hour is a four-round golf tournament? That last question is what Robert Redford had to ask himself, and now I will give him an answer.

First, let's go over the first hour of the film that sets up this premise. Rannulph Junuh (Matt Damon) was once the toast of Savannah: a great golfing champion and engaged to the debutante daughter of the local country club owner. Then came 1917, and Junuh went along with the Americans as they joined the Great War. His entire company was killed in combat, except for Junuh, who was declared a hero and given the Medal of Honor. However, he couldn't return to Savannah, play golf, or marry the patiently waiting Adele Invergordon (Charlize Theron).

As the years passed, and the Great Depression came, Savannah was on the verge of ruin. Adele's father couldn't afford to keep his new course, so he killed himself. Instead of selling the land off, and immediately pulling herself out of debt, Adele proposes a golf tournament to bring some much-needed promotion and publicity to the town. She gets the two best players in the world, Bobby Jones (Joel Gretsch) and Walter Hagen (Bruce McGill), to agree to compete for $10,000. The Good Ol' Boys of Savannah insist on a local player competing, so little Hardy Greaves (J. Michael Moncrief) suggests Junuh, who just now came back to town. Junuh initially refuses, claiming he lost his swing, but an appearance of a mysterious stranger who offers his caddying services "for five dollars, guaranteed" changes his mind.

That mysterious stranger, of course, is Bagger Vance (Will Smith), thus the film's title: The Legend of Bagger Vance. It is narrated by an elderly Hardy (Jack Lemmon) while he is suffering yet another heart attack on the golf course. That's the set-up, which is done fairly well. The characters are interesting, the setting is attractive, and the film just looks beautiful.

But then, the success of the film will greatly depend on how much the audience likes golf. The winner of the tournament should not be a surprise to even the most ignorant viewer. By the very nature of this film, you know that it's not going to be the golf version of Rocky. The film needs the triumphant ending for a proper payoff after an hour of golfing and little else. You could marvel at the quasi-natural beauty of the course, or smile at the warm platitudes that Bagger regularly spits out, like a Yoda of the links. Otherwise, it's just not worth your time.

I know that Redford would like to make another film like The Natural, and Bagger Vance certainly evokes similar images and themes. It's just a matter of judgement, as to whether this film should have, or could have been made. Successfully, that is. It's been made, and the story is more than just the Steven Pressfield novel now. I don't dislike the result; it just wasn't necessary.


For more information, go to the Internet Movie Database:
The Legend of Bagger Vance (2000)

Here's some merchandise for sale at Amazon.com
The Legend of Bagger Vance (2000) -- VHS
The Legend of Bagger Vance (2000) -- DVD
The Legend of Bagger Vance, a novel by Steven Pressfield -- Hardcover
The Legend of Bagger Vance, a novel by Steven Pressfield -- Paperback
The Legend of Bagger Vance, a novel by Steven Pressfield -- Audio Cassette (read by Jack Lemmon)
The Legend of Bagger Vance: Soundtrack -- Compact Disc


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Review © 2000 Matt Heffernan