The Legend of Bagger Vance is about a man named Rannulph Junah, a one-time pro golfer and World War I hero, who, psychologically scarred by his experiences in the war, gives up the game and tries to live his life in quiet anonymity. A decade later, a big golf tournament, to be held in his home town of Savannah, Georgia, causes the citizens to search out Junah to be the "Local Hero" of that important match. Junah, of course, wants no part of the festivities, but is swayed by a small boy named Hardy, his ex-bride-to-be, Adele, and a mysterious stranger who calls himself Bagger Vance.
The acting highlight is J. Michael Moncrief, who turns in a very good performance as Hardy, the young boy who has more faith in Junah than Junah has in himself. What makes his performance even more impressive is that it outshines the performances of every actor he appears with! Casting directors take note; this kid needs his own movie.
Will Smith decides not to be his usual "Will Smithy" self, but opts to be Morgan Freeman instead. He plays Bagger Vance, an all seeing, all knowing golf guru, who speaks and teaches Junah in cryptic ways, about the sport, and about Junah's own inner self. Yes, you guessed correctly, he's basically Yoda. He stops short of talking backwards, but if he did, he would say "If your swing you find, win the tournament you could, hmm?"
Matt Damon is Junah, and most of that role only requires confused-looking reactions to the other characters in the film, and the occasional swinging of a long stick.
As you may have surmised, this is a very simplistic plot. Many of the serious issues, such as Junah's post-war trauma, Adele's animosity toward Junah for disappearing for ten years, and Hardy's feelings about his father's efforts to provide for his family during the depression, are never sufficiently resolved. Once these issues serve their function to progress the plot, they are all but forgotten.
Also, Redford shows a certain apathy for the story, as he telegraphs which scenes are more important by his style of directing. The mundane scenes are rushed, looking more like a television sitcom than a feature film, but the more mystical scenes show the care that many of Redford's other works are known for. The result is that the audience can tell something important is about to happen, just by how the scene is framed on the screen. I don't believe this to be intentional, just sloppy. After all, Redford has already covered most of this territory before, in The Natural.
Even with its shortcomings, this movie still had the potential to be an enjoyable family film, except for the use of some rather questionable sexual content. I'm no prude, but why would such completely irrelevant material be included in what is essentially a feel-good, period-piece sports film? The offending scenes could easily have been deleted without effecting the story, and would leave this movie with a more family-friendly PG rating.
So, what The Natural does for the sport of baseball, The Legend of Bagger Vance attempts to do for golf. Both films use sports as metaphors for life, and both films contain elements of mysticism or implied divine intervention. In dealing with these ideas, The Natural hits a grand slam, while Bagger Vance falls just short of the green.
Directed By: Robert Redford
Starring: Matt Damon, Will Smith, Charlize Theron, Andrea Powell,
J. Michael Moncrief, Jack Lemmon
MPAA Rated PG-13 (Sexual Content)
Running Time: 127 Min.
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