The Legend Of Bagger Vance

The Legend Of Bagger Vance

***

Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Legend is a good word. It implies magical powers, as well as something that happened in the mists of time.

Bagger Vance is a mythical figure, a black man who walks out of a warm Savannah night to give advice and comfort to a one-time sporting hero.

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He is as real as the tooth fairy, but that's alright. This is not a serious biopic. It is a fable, the memories of an old man looking back 60 years to when he was a kid, growing up in Georgia, with a passion for the game of golf.

Rannulph Junuh (Matt Damon) was a local boy who could drive a ball further than any living person. He won all the competitions in the South, dated Adele Invergordon (Charlize Theron), the daughter of Savannah's finest, and was the toast of the state.

In 1916, he joined up to fight in France and, shortly afterwards, his entire platoon was wiped out. This affected him so much that he never came home after the war, drifting for years through Europe like a ghost.

Finally, he was seen again on the streets of Savannah, shabby, unshaven, still looking handsome, like a law student after a stag night.

Damon has a problem playing down-and-outs. He's so clean cut, three days' growth doesn't fool anyone.

Meanwhile, the Great Depression has hit town. Adele's daddy shoots himself after building a spectacular golf course, at which no one can afford to play. She decides to set up a match between Bobby Jones and Walter Hagan for $10,000 prize money. The business leaders reluctantly agree to support it, but insist that one of their own boys be included to give encouragement to the distressed folk of Savannah. And so Junuh is enticed out of retirement.

As much as anything, the movie is the story of this contest. Bagger Vance, who hires himself to Junuh as his caddie for $5, has a relatively insignificant role and, for all Will Smith's charm, is seen as the purveyor of homilies ("Your hands is wiser than your head will ever be"), rather than the living embodiment of African America. No one calls him "Boy", or utters the N-word. His presence among these white people is treated as naturally as the air they breathe, while in neighbouring states black men are being lynched for even looking at a white woman.

Robert Redford understands that he is dealing with myth, rather than history. He directs with a strong element of nostalgia, using the soft focus of childhood to enhance the old-fashioned notion of fair play and a game's a game for a' that.

Reviewed on: 09 Mar 2001
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A mythical caddie helps a down-on-his luck golfer.
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Director: Robert Redford

Writer: Jeremy Leven, based on the novel by Steven Pressfield

Starring: Will Smith, Matt Damon, Charlize Theron, Bruce McGill, Joel Gretsch, J. Michael Moncrief, Lane Smith, Peter Gerety, Michael O'Neill, Thomas Jay Ryan, Trip Hamilton

Year: 2000

Runtime: 126 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: US

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