The Legend of Zen Golfing
Even before I watched "The Legend of Bagger Vance" it looked as though it fitted perfectly into one of my favourite types of movies. First up it is a sport based movie, which I love especially one which features the sport of golf. Secondly it features one of my favourite actors, Will Smith, who is always good for a laugh and finally it is set in an era that always fascinates me. Well I definitely enjoyed "The Legend of Bagger Vance", but for none of the reasons I expected. Although a sport based movie, the golf is purely used to tell a wonderful story about finding yourself. Yes it stars Will Smith, but not in his usual comedy role but in one which is more dramatic and it also has brilliant performances from Matt Damon and Charlize Theron. Plus it has what can only be termed as wonderful direction from none other than Robert Redford.
With the Depression suddenly sweeping across Savannah, local entrepreneur John Invergordon's (Harve Presnell - Patch Adams) dream of owning the best golf course in the state looks to have become a badly timed folly. With the stunning course having run up considerable debts, John takes his own life, leaving his only daughter, Adele (Charlize Theron - The Cider House Rules), to deal with her unlucky inheritance. With the local banks snapping at her heels to repossess the golf course, Adele decides to stage an exhibition golf match featuring the 2 best golfers in the land, Bobby Jones (Joel Gretsch) and Walter Hagen (Bruce McGill - Ground Control) along with one time local hero, Rannulph Junuh (Matt Damon - Rounders), who had once been touted as the next big golfer before having served in World War I and returned a broken man.
Not overly keen on returning to the golfing scene, Junuh soon finds that he is encouraged to pick up his clubs from some very strange sources. Not only does he get the encouragement from his one time lover and host of the tournament, Adele, but also from local lad Hardy Greaves (J. Michael Moncrief) who dreams of being a professional golfer and also from mysterious newcomer to Savannah, Bagger Vance (Will Smith - Wild Wild West), who suddenly appears one night and takes it upon himself to become Junuh's caddy and mentor. But as the tournament progressed it soon became apparent that the special touch, which Junuh once possessed, had deserted him and he had lost his swing.
As I have already mentioned, I expected "The Legend of Bagger Vance" to be a typical sports movie, which followed the predictable under dog scenario and would feature numerous stereo typical scenes and equally predictable dialogue. But in fact, what I watched was a stand alone sports movie which although heavily features the world of golf, is more focussed on telling the story of a man's journey as he rediscovers not just his love of golf but also his love of life. Although this may not sound the most original of story lines, and to be honest the same scenario has been used over and again in the cinema, it is in the sympathetic yet clever manner in which it has been approached that makes it so highly watch able. Instead of overly emphasising that the main character is going on a journey of discovery, the movie smoothly glides along at a wonderful pace and allows us to feel as if we are going on the journey with him.
The story is actually set up very nicely and is told through the eyes of the young lad Hardy Greaves, and is in fact him reminiscing many years later (brilliantly played by Jack Lemmon as the older Hardy), having suffered a stroke whilst out playing golf, flipping dangerous sport. The early part of "The Legend of Bagger Vance" sets up the history for the main thrux of the story and we not only get to meet all the main characters but also some history to them, especially the relationship between Rannulph Junuh and Adele, as they were the darlings of the social scene before he went to serve in the First World War. We also get to see the effects that the Depression had on families, not just in the fact that Adele's father committed suicide but also that people were embarrassed by having to do menial jobs and queue up for hand outs to survive. Not that the movie really pushes this element in your face, but shows it so that you get a real feel for the desperation that people had and therefore understand why so many of them wanted Junuh to succeed in symbolization of their own struggles.
What is probably one of his best performances to date; we have Will Smith taking on the role of the title character Bagger Vance, which is a huge step away from his usual comedy style. That is not to say, that this character does not have a lighter side, but it is one which relies on Smith's ability to act in a subtle manner, rather than being loud and funny. The character of Bagger Vance is basically one of a somewhat mysterious travelling Hobo who just happens to turn up at the right time to aid the character of Junuh in finding his swing. Again, like the idea behind the story, this sort of character is not overly original but Will Smith does a marvellous job of bringing the character to life.
Playing opposite Will Smith is Matt Damon in the character of Rannulph Junuh, and although I have never been overly impressed with Damon's earlier performances I have to admit I enjoyed this one. His character really goes on a journey having once been an up and coming golfer, the ravages of war leaving him a broken man, having nearly given up on life and preferring to spend his time holed up with his drinking buddies playing poker. But we then get to watch him recapture what was lost on the war fields as he not only gets his swing back but also his will to live.
Also making very good appearances we have Charlize Theron, Bruce McGill, Joel Gretsch and also Lane Smith, all of which handle their roles brilliantly, never over acting but yet capturing the essence of each of their characters. Special mention should go to Michael J. Moncrief as the young Hardy Greaves, who in his only performance to date puts in a performance which near enough steals the show from all the other stars.
What came as a huge surprise to me was the fact that "The Legend of Bagger Vance" was produced and directed by Hollywood Legend Robert Redford. To be honest I am not overly familiar with his work behind the camera and so was very impressed with the whole way he handled this film. It is not just the fact that he has created a brilliant balance between focussing on the story, whilst displaying just the right amount of golf, or the perfect pace that he keeps the film moving along at, or even the brilliant performances that he has got from the stars. It is the fact that everything he has done with this film is in my eyes, perfect. From the slightest things, such as the camera angle, set design, or the way he has had the stars move and speak, every second of this film is entertaining, interesting and enjoyable.
When is a sports movie not about sport? The answer is "The Legend of Bagger Vance", a movie that uses the basis of sport to tell a wonderful story about discovering yourself. Unlike the numerous other sports based movies, which follow the typical under dog scenario, and are riddled with cliché-ridden dialogue and predictable scenes, "The Legend of Bagger Vance" near enough stands alone in its approach to telling the story. On top of this we are treated to some exceptional performances from the likes of Matt Damon and Will Smith in roles that are a far cry from their typical faire, plus superb directional skill from none other than Hollywood legend Robert Redford. Even if you are not a fan of sports movies, you will enjoy the dramatic element of "The Legend of Bagger Vance".