The Legend Of Bagger Vance (PG)

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The ViewBirmingham Review

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Review byMatthew Turner27/02/2001

3 out of 5 stars
Running time: 126 mins

Uplifting feel-good drama from director Robert Redford - chock-full of flaws and easy to criticize, but nonetheless enjoyable.

Director Robert Redford clearly has a predilection for casting actors that bear a remarkable resemblance to himself as a younger man - witness Brad Pitt in A River Runs Through It and now Matt Damon in The Legend of Bagger Vance.

Whatever his motives, however, Redford’s decisions are shrewd ones, because Damon acquits himself well in a role that should whet the public’s appetite for his more substantial part in the upcoming All The Pretty Horses.

The film is set in Savannah, Georgia, in the 1930s, during the Depression. Damon plays Rannulph Junuh, once a golfing legend, now reduced to alcoholism after a traumatic experience in World War One where he lead many of the towns’ young men to their deaths. He also rejects his one-time sweetheart, society belle Adele Invergordon (ravishingly played by Charlize Theron).

However, when Adele needs to stage a golfing tournament to pay off the debts on her late father’s golf resort, Junuh is persuaded to participate, thanks to the faith of a young boy (J. Michael Moncrief – the film’s narrator) and the sudden appearance of a mystical caddy named Bagger Vance (Will Smith).

It would be all too easy to pick holes in this film, whether it be the film’s failure to address racial issues (given the setting and the time-period), Will Smith’s zen-like golfing-equals-life philosophies ("It’s a game that can’t be won, only played") or the fact that Damon’s transition from Broken Man to Reborn Golden Boy appears to consist of nothing more than a shower, a shave and a haircut - blame must indeed be laid with the make-up department for not making him look more wretched in the first place.

However, if you can get past these flaws, then what’s left is actually rather entertaining!

All three leads are well-cast, with Damon proving a solid and engaging lead presence and a stunning Charlize Theron milking the sexy Southern Belle act for all it’s worth. Will Smith seems uncharacteristically subdued as Bagger Vance, but then his character is immediately marked out as being somehow angelic and is therefore meant to be elusive and mysterious.

There is terrific support, too, firstly from Moncrief as the wide-eyed golfing enthusiast who worships Junuh, and secondly from Joel Gretsch and Bruce McGill (last seen, memorably, as the small-town lawyer in The Insider), as Bobby Jones and Walter Hagen the two golfing legends Junuh plays against in the tournament.

There’s even a cameo by an uncredited Jack Lemmon as the narrator in the present day.

Aside from the performances, the film is also stunning to look at, with sumptuous photography by Michael Ballhaus and pleasing attention to period detail (or at least a strict adherence to Movie Costume Clichés, plus-fours and all).

Admittedly, if this had received its at-one-time-predicted clutch of Oscar-nominations, then it would have come in for much more of a critical hammering, as it would certainly collapse under any expectations of greatness.

The fact that it escaped Oscar-level scrutiny, then, means that you’re free to enjoy it for what it is: a light-heartedly entertaining feel-good movie that can be enjoyed regardless of your feelings towards golf (though to his credit, Redford wrings a good deal of suspense from the various golfing set-ups). Decent Friday-night feel-good entertainment.

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Content updated: 22/09/2018 22:30

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