Producer-Director Robert Redford’s take on a golf epic is a putter not a driver. It lacks conflict, thus drama, from the get-go which results in just a pictorially beautiful but largely boring movie. Redford might have tried to reproduce the glory of “The Natural” or even the mellow interest of “A River Runs Through It”, but this one comes nowhere close to achieving those successes. It’s a small movie with an important name. If you’re looking for a golf drama, go rent Kevin Costner’s “Tin Cup”, it’s oodles more fun.
Matt Damon plays Savannah, Georgia’s most prominent citizen, a top notch golfer named Rannulph Junuh who racks up awards by the gross. WWI gobbles up the men of the town and, although Junuh eventually returns in one piece, he’s demoralized and with nowhere to go but further down. Then the great depression hits.
Junuh’s old girlfriend is Adele (Charlize Theron) whose wealthy father has just committed suicide after constructing the most beautiful golfing club in the South. Now, no one will come and she’s faced with bankruptcy.
The Mayor and the town’s businessmen try to force her to sell but she’s determined to make a go of it and concocts a scheme to get the South’s two biggest golf pros to play an exhibition match at her club. But the townspeople believe that the match has to feature a Savannah native and Junuh’s name crops up. Of course, since he’s been hiding out since returning from Europe, you know he’s in no condition to play. He’s supposedly a drunk who has “lost his swing”. Sorry, but Damon just doesn’t look or act down and out enough to convince us that he is. He tells the Mayor and Adele that he’s not interested then soon changes his mind. That’s when this mysterious stranger, Bagger Vance (Will Smith) shows up out of the clear dark blue night to caddy the former golf pro and offer endless Zen-like inspirational tales and sayings to get Junuh to wake up and smell the fairway once again. Also rooting for Junuh is a young boy named Hardy Greaves who thinks golf is the best game on the planet.
Charlize Theron is overexposed as an actress. I’m sick of seeing her in every movie. She’s a fine actress, but she ought to go on sabbatical. I was prepared to badger Will Smith’s Bagger with snide remarks about how he is mimicking Morgan Freeman throughout, but the truth is, even though he does sound like him quite often, Smith does a fine job with his character and has some good lines. Damon is a good actor too, but he’s not given much to work with. Neither Junuh nor the two other golf pros that he’s up against seem to be driven by anything to win and Junuh’s inner demons really aren’t all that formidable. J. Michael Moncrief, the 12 year old who plays Hardy Greaves, through whose eyes the story is told, is just wonderful. However, scene after scene is predictable and rooting for Junuh is something you vaguely do because you’re supposed to not because you want to.
Also stars Bruce McGill as Walter Hagen and Joel Gretsch as Bobby Jones, the opposing golf pros. Jack Lemmon has a cameo as the aged Hardy.
Lotta says: “The Legend of Bagger Vance” is pretty tepid stuff.