The Legend of Bagger Vance (VHS, 2001, Spanish Subtitled)

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The Legend of comfortable Baggy Pants, I mean Bagger Vance

Apr 22, 2001 (Updated Apr 22, 2001)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:A graceful, beautifully rendered mythic tale. Tasteful, not cloying.

Cons:Perhaps too graceful, too deliberately and slowly paced .

The Bottom Line: Though lacking burning issues or high-tech gimmicks Legend is a graceful myth creating fable of a film most will enjoy very much.


Here's a film which turns the game of golf into an analogy for the game of life. It works hard at creating a myth that never was. It's a fable, a fairy tale and old fashioned.

We have the character Bagger Vance (played by Will Smith) who is part-muse, part teacher, who says things like: "Golf is a game that can't be won, only played " and "inside everyone of us is our one true authentic swing."

Remember The Natural? The baseball film with Robert Redford? The Natural was like an opera. An exaggerated, somewhat tragic story about a fictitious baseball star. The Legend of Baggy Vance instead of being an opera is more like a good natured, well intentioned fairy tale concerning a fictitious golf hero and his muse and it's been directed by Robert Redford.

I asked myself after watching the well directed, well acted film, why Redford made this film?
The film is good, but it doesn't seem like the type of film anyone will get particularly passionate over. It manages to create some very well done sequences, but it is still a film that uses golf as an analogy to life. We have baseball, and to a lesser extent football and basketball that have been used for this purpose for a long long time. Now it's golf's turn?

So why did Robert Redford who pretty much can do any non-Hollywood blockbuster movie he wants to do, do this film about life, golfers, a little romance and a golf tournament?

Because it's a film that won't be any more dated 25 years from now, than it is already. It's an old fashioned sort of film. It's a little bit corny and cliche'd in spots, but not overly so. There's some very clever and well written dialogue, some very nicely constructed scenes. The film features strong ensemble acting from well cast thespians. Everyone is very good, but no one steals the picture. Individual scenes are dominated at times by the actor with the best lines or most to do, but a few scenes later it's another actor who takes the spotlight. One might quibble that the issue of race is never brought up or even hinted at, but the Will Smith character is a muse, a guiding spirit, a spirit, a golf deity... not merely a caddy.

Cinematographer Michael Ballhaus has created some wonderful looks for the film. He creates a visual warmth immediately when we flash back from the present to the 1930's. He captures the golf course greens, and sunsets as if he were creating award winning National Geographic photographs. The picture is full of visual richness and beauty.

The entire film is sentimental in nature, but it the sentiment is never forced upon us. It's a character, a component in the story. We can understand someone being sentimental reminiscing about their past--though we are never being forced to feel as sentimental as they may be feeling. After an almost un-necessary prologue involving Jack Lemmon on a golf course, we flash back to when he was a child in Savannah, Georgia just prior to the depression. Lemmon, through the eyes of the child (J. Michael Moncrief) introduces us to all the main characters of the film.

Rannulph Junuh (Matt Damon) is a Savannah legend. As a young amateur golfer he broke records and then went off to fight in World War 1. He became a war hero, but being the only survivor of his platoon destroyed him emotionally and he disappeared for several years, abandoning the woman he loved Adele Invergordon (Charlize Theron). Adele, meanwhile became her father's right hand man/woman. Her father put everything he had into building a beautiful golf resort. Then just as it was about to open, the great depression began. Faced with complete financial ruin, Adele's father commits suicide.

Adele however is determined to make a success of the golf resort and intends on staging a golf tournament featuring the greatest golfers of the time: the respected and very handsome Bobby Jones (Joel Gresch); and the colorful, womanizing, Walter Hagen (Bruce McGill). However, the locals will only give their approval of the event if a suitable Savanah born golfer is located to compete.

Young Hardy (J.Michael Moncrief) comes up with the solution: Rannulph Junuh. Adele and many others in the town didn't even realize that war hero and former golf legend Rannulph had quietly snuck back into town. Rannulph however is a card playing alcoholic and doesn't want to be in the spotlight as he is still haunted by demons from the war. Meeting Adele again however stirs something inside of him. He's not convinced because he believes he has lost his ability to play the game.

Enter the ghost-like muse Bagger Vance who appears out of nowhere to be Rannulph's caddy, teacher and muse. Can Bagger help Rannulph get his swing back, and compete with the greatest golfers of the day?

The tournament is on and many life lessons are learned by the characters in the film with what transpires next.

As you might be able to tell, this whole film could have wound up being an insufferable, cloyingly sweet load of cinematic swill.

It isn't.

Everything about the film is graceful and impeccably done. It's almost too well done, robbing cynics and bad movie lovers the opportunity to make fun of the film's delicate fable-like presentation.

The film does have some flaws. I disliked the brief overly stylized flashbacks to Rannulph's battle scenes. Some of the scenes are written a bit too safely by Jeremey Leven (the screenplay was based on the novel by Steven Pressfield ) and overly-directed by Redford. Race is never an issue or dealt with during the film.

But mostly we are treated with wonderfully written, directed and acted scenes. Scenes that could have been cliche'd or overly corny, but aren't. There's even a couple of very amusing courtship type scenes between Rannulph and Adele which reminded me of great Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy scenes of the past.. Everyone's relation to each other throughout the film seems wonderfully laid-back and un-forced. Will Smith as Bagger Vance is asked to play a character who at times is a subordinate and at other times is a master teacher who is asked to mouth some wisdom of the ages type lines. It doesn't seem possible any actor could make a character like this work in a modern film, but Smith finds the right balance and tone to pull it off perfectly.

Legend is a film that refused to bash you over the head or overload your senses. It's quieter and gentler than most movies, but it's not saccharin sweet. It's not a particularly important film and though it's about golfers and a good deal of it's running time is spent in a golf tournament, you don't have to play or even like golf at all to enjoy or understand the film. You might wish the film was more topical and about something that relates to you directly. . . and then you realize it does. It uses golf, and good sportsmanship as metaphors for life. A lot of sports stories have done this of course but few have done it as gracefully as this film does. And few sports stories capture what the attraction of the game is to fans and players alike as this one does.

Ten or twenty years from now it won't matter that the film doesn't break any new ground or have something of burning topical importance to say. It will just be seen as a well made and remarkably graceful film that succeeds in being timeless because it's set in the past and features mythical and heroic real life legendary characters existing together.

Legend of Bagger Vance is a solid well done and very graceful film which doesn't have the topical message or latest gadgetary to demand that you see it today. It's a myth creating fable of a film most will enjoy very much.
. Today, you might wonder why Robert Redford would use his considerable skills and more importantly his influence to make such a trifle of a film. But ten or twenty years from now the film will very likely be regarded as a solid, well done film and audiences will wonder why they didn't make more films like this.


Christopher Jarmick,is the author of The Glass Cocoon with Serena F. Holder a steamy suspense thriller which is now available (glasscocoon@hotmail for details).

Original portions of this review Copyrightę Christopher J. Jarmick 2001. The above work is protected by international copyright law.


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