The Legend of Bagger Vance is like any other fairly inspirational movie. It has its ups, its downs, its defeats, and its triumphs. It gives you a protagonist who you want to conquer all the odds and supporting characters you wish you had as friends. Although the film doesn’t hold up as well as some, it will still be a great feel-good after-work film for most.
Matt Damon stars as Rannulph Junuh, a Depression-era WWI veteran who used to be a pretty damn good golfer. His hometown of Savannah, Georgia often fondly recalls the time officials had to hold off play for twenty minutes while they measured just how far he drove a ball! However, the war has plagued him with memories of his entire company being wiped out and thus, he has left his wealthy girlfriend Adele (Charlize Theron) and lives as a drunk trying to forget. It is Adele who begins the story’s journey as she tries to win back her family’s lost fortune by holding a two-day golf tournament at their golf course with two of the best golfers of the era, played by Joel Gretsch and Bruce McGill. Though, she also needs Junuh to compete to generate local interest. Junuh initially refuses but is approached one night by Bagger Vance (Will Smith), a traveler who never quite goes in to his history and just seems full of metaphors, advice, and good intentions. It is he who fully convinces Junuh to compete, helps him ‘get his swing back’, and helps Junuh fight his inner demons.
The film is directed by Robert Redford, who you might recognize from Captain America: Winter Soldier among many other things, and overall is good but just can’t seem to find its way in to greatness. It’s not particularly believable in its historical portrayal and I can’t place my finger on why exactly. I’m not sure if it’s the dialogue (which can be a little cheesy sometimes), set pieces; I couldn’t tell you, but I just didn’t really feel like I was in the early 1930s. It isn’t like that’s a terrible thing though, since I didn’t need for the film to be 100% historically accurate when much of it is spent on a golf course anyways. The characters for the most part are likable and even the rival golfers came across as somewhat charming and interesting which I think may have been the point. They weren’t the antagonists per say seeing as that role was filled by Junuh’s personal demons and obstacles.
Now, I’ll go ahead and address the elephant in the room: the character Bagger Vance is more than a little racially insensitive and wouldn’t fly if this film were released today. The way he speaks and acts is just kind of demeaning when you compare him to the rest of the ensemble. Even the concept of his character, a mysterious black man appearing to give sage advice, is a little old-fashioned in thinking and insensitive. I’m not going to say it completely ruined the movie for me because it didn’t, and I’m not going to say that this was an intentional thing on anyone’s part. In my eyes, it just came out different on-screen than it read from the book the film is based on and some people won’t mind as much as others.
For the most part I liked The Legend of Bagger Vance because I like feel-good movies, especially ones involving sports and/or different time periods. The actors were all somewhat early in their careers and it shows, the one black man in the film isn’t given the greatest portrayal, and the film might have some cheesy dialogue here and there, but none of that is enough to completely ruin the movie. You get to watch a man overcome his personal demons and gain back the respect and love of his hometown, in predictable fashion, but nevertheless in a way that just makes you happy and rooting for him by the end of the film. This movie won’t make you excited enough to want to immediately jump off your couch and play a round, but while sipping a glass of wine and eating your dinner after a long day of work it will add one more reason to feel content.