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The Legend of Bagger Vance
2000 - PG-13 - 127 Mins.
Director: Robert Redford
Producer: Jake Eberts, Robert Redford, Michael Nozik
Written By: Richard LaGravenese, Jeremy Leven
Starring: Will Smith, Matt Damon, Charlize Theron, Dermot Crowley, Joel Gretsch
Review by: David Trier
Try, try as they might, not even Robert Redford can convince me that watching golf, even on a big screen with a couple of big stars, even in a nice theater on a free screening ticket, is entertaining. Hands down without a doubt, this movie is boring and inconsequential. Two hours of golf and I feel like an old man.

The movie starts by ripping off the format to Saving Private Ryan and The Green Mile - an old man (Jack Lemmon) outside re-examining his life, he thinks back and remembers... uh, why he likes golf. The two hour flashback takes place in the late 1920's Savannah, GA. It starts with a little backstory, yes, farther back than the feature-length back story itself where it explains the situation of Rannulph Junuh (Matt Damon). He was a famous golfer as a teenager but then left Savannah to go fight in WWI. In the war, as captain, he sadly loses his entire fleet and gets a slight case of shellshock. Ten years later, for no apparent reason, he appears in his hometown and is recognized by young Hardy Greaves (J. Michael Moncrief), the golf-loving child version of the narrator. Junuh's old girlfriend, Adele Invergordon (Charlize Theron) who he basically abandoned for ten years to go find himself, has inherited her father's golf course (he shot himself because of the Depression). Rather than sell it to pay off their debts, Adele hosts a golfing tournament, inviting two national stars and Junuh. Junuh is not interested until a clever young black man, Bagger Vance (Will Smith), requests to be his caddy and this combined with the idea of possibly getting to discover himself (maybe naked with Charlize Theron) inspires him to compete. Like every sports movie ever made, he sucks, he gets better, he sucks a little, he almost loses, and for no reason other than cinematic convenience, he wins. As abruptly as Vance appeared, he leaves. Return to the present. The old man, who's been suffering from a heart attack the whole time, gets up and walks off into the sunset. The message? Golf is a great sport because there are no teams and limited physical exertion, but you still get called an athlete and it still helps you get laid.

Now, there were some positive attributes to this film. As expected, it is beautifully shot, especially with some of its clever ball-flying-toward-the-hole perspectives. Will Smith, although his character does little more than pop his head in and offer psychobabble, is very appealing. He may make silly music, but Will Smith is a good actor (see Six Degrees of Separation, not Bad Boys) and it was refreshing to see him in this role. He's not really asked to do much in the script but smile and talk a lot of golf nonsense, but he's still demanding of attention on the screen. Charlize Theron continues to be impressive. I can barely remember the last movie I've seen that she wasn't in and that's becoming a little unsettling (take a vacation!) but she has such an entertaining way about her. She struggles at times with the southern accent (as does almost everyone in the movie) but she makes up for it by being expressive and commited to each scene. Matt Damon does his best and delivers an acceptable performance, but he looks too young for the part and doesn't seem to fit in with the rest of the cast for some reason. He struggles to portray depth in a character that's written only a few inches deep. He isn't bad, but he doesn't offer much of anything to suggest that he's worth rooting for. The little boy is certainly cute enough, albeit a little odd, and some of the supporting cast is quite good. Most notably, Bruce McGill (who always delivers great characters) as pompous competitor Walter Hagen and virtual newcomer Joel Gretsch as professional competitor Bobby Jones, who offers surprising depth to a character where it's least expected.

The biggest problem with this movie is that there's no real dramatic conflict. It requires basically no effort to get Junuh to join the competition, there's never any real doubt from the audience perspective as to the outcome, and none of the characters are worth investing in to a degree that you really care what happens anyway. Bagger Vance is hardly a legend, in fact, he's hardly a character. He shows up out of the blue to be Junuh's caddy, gives him some golfing advice and some philosophical commentary, and then he goes away. The movie isn't even about him. The dynamics of a relationship between a southern white golfer and his black caddy in the midst of the Great Depression is a goldmine of character study that isn't even touched upon in this movie. It's all about the golf, and if you're not obsessed with the sport, you're just completely neglected as a moviegoer. Robert Redford has made a name for himself in directing by making long boring movies with intriguing characters. This, on the other hand, is just a long boring movie
Movie Guru Rating
Disappointing.  Had the right ingredients and should have been better. Disappointing.  Had the right ingredients and should have been better.
  2 out of 5 stars

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