go home!picksWilliamsburg Gallery GuideWilliamsburg Restaurant Reviewsmusic reviewsfilm reviewsOur Online GalleryCelebrity Interviews by Alexander LaurenceLocal ColorWilliamsburg Bar ReviewsBook ReviewsHand-Picked LinksPast Issues ArchivedInteractive Williamsburgcontact us

Golf is stupid. If you disagree, you must be wealthy. When you don’t enjoy the sport, it’s difficult to watch a movie centered on it. Movies like Caddyshack and Tin Cup thrive on the fact that the culture surrounding golf is absurd. The Legend of Bagger Vance doesn’t deliver on any of its promises. Not only does it fail to show interesting relationships or a compelling legend, it doesn’t even show an interesting golf game.

The legend is given to us from the perspective of Hardy Greaves reminiscing on a golf course in the midst of his fifth heart attack. He tells a story from his early youth about Rannulph Junnah (Matt Damon), a World War I veteran. Before going off to war, Rannulph was a Savannah legend as golf champion. He won the affection of the country club owner’s debutante daughter Adele Invergordon (Charlize Theron). However, he disappears after the war, feeling lost after experiencing the horrors of combat.

The story takes place in Savannah in the midst of the Depression. Adele must cope with the suicide of her father and Rannulph’s vanishing act. She comes up with a plan for a golf tournament to revive her father’s country club when faced with local businessmen trying to take the land. This tactic is strangely forgotten and shady business gives way to excitement over the tournament and Savannah pride. Who could represent Savannah in this tournament? Young Hardy speaks up in a town meeting and says that Rannulph Junuh can do it. He can save the day. Rannulph is reluctant and metaphorically declares that he’s lost his swing. He’s content to give it all up and drink away the rest of his days.

Enter Bagger Vance (Will Smith, The Fresh Prince). He appears out of nowhere in the middle of the night where Rannulph can struggle to regain his swing out of the sight of those begging him to compete. Bagger comes along to help him find his swing.

The tournament begins with lots of fanfare as the country’s two most famous golfers Wlater Hagen (Bruce McGill) and Bobby Jones (Joel Gretsch) come to play. Rannulph’s two opponents seem like stock characters. Walter Hagen is the athlete drunk on fame, money and women while Bobby Jones is the consummate sportsman and gentleman. Appropriately enough for this film, they end up tying in anticlimactic fashion. I tend to avoid giving away plot or anything close to an ending but, in this case, there is nothing compelling or engaging about the competition, so it’s not a big loss.

The romance between Rannulph and Adele is also a disappointing side plot. The two lovers are introduced to each other again, after Rannulph returns home, when the little boy sees both of them through glass jars set on a windowsill of his father’s local store. In theory, it could have been an inventive technique, showing so much while showing so little. However, as with the rest of the movie, it only accomplished the latter. Their previous relationship was only hinted at making it hard to care if they get back together or not.

For a movie called The Legend of Bagger Vance, there isn’t enough about Bagger Vance present to make him legendary. Bagger’s philosophy is never really clear. He just spews out Buddhist-esuqe wisdom about golf. His effect on Rannulph is closer to that of a cheerleader than a mentor. It’s also never clear what Bagger Vance is. He comes from the middle of nowhere, not sent for by anyone, then he returns to nowhere. It’s fine to have a character that is mysterious but Bagger Vance comes off as ambiguous.

This film is similar to another period drama directed by Robert Redford, A River Runs Through It. Like Bagger Vance, that film uses a sport as a metaphor for a character’s life, fly-fishing. Fly-fishing paralleled the characters’ development as people. However, in The Legend of Bagger Vance, golf overshadows all of the relationships. It doesn’t strengthen the significance of them. This movie had some good performances and it had some beautiful scenery but it was structured poorly and leaves you feeling flat.



Free Williamsburg© | 93 Berry Street | Brooklyn, NY 11211
[email protected] | December 2000 | Issue 9