He Said/She Said #19: The Legend of Bagger Vance
He Said/She Said is a bi-weekly column where a male and female reviewer from the site team up to debate the merits of a particular film.
I feel that THE LEGEND OF BAGGER VANCE is one of the most misunderstood films of the 90’s. Maybe it’s the star power of Will Smith, Matt Damon and Charlize Theron that threw people off. I think people saw their names and naturally assumed that this was going to be a summer blockbuster with quick editing and maybe a couple of fistfights. Instead, they got a deeply moving film about finding who you are and overcoming past mistakes to achieve success. It’s a golf movie, but golf here is purely a metaphor for finding that balance in life that sets all of us straight. It sounds corny, but the movie makes it work.
Matt Damon is Rannulph Junuh, a down and out former prodigal golfer that now spends his days drinking and gambling, but turns to golf to get his life back on track. That’s the basic premise and what you’ll see on the back cover. But the real story is Rannulph’s use of golf as a physical metaphor for reaching a turning point in your life when you stop feeling sorry for yourself and start living your life. Will Smith is Bagger Vance, a mysterious caddy that helps him get his swing back. But Bagger Vance is more of an “angel” that guides and inspires Rannulph on his journey. The “swing” is just another way of saying “life”, “spirit”, “mojo” or whatever word you want to use to describe that inner quality we all have that inspire us to be successful or to live a good life.
With two talented actors turning in great performances, Robert Redford was left focusing on beautiful scenery and captivating art direction. Even if you don’t buy into the deeper meaning (which I obviously did), the beautifully shot golf scenes and landscapes are worth the price of admission. Many films are more than what they appear, such is the case with THE LEGEND OF BAGGER VANCE.
I couldn’t stomach THE LEGEND OF BAGGER VANCE and I’m not completely sure why. I like Damon, Smith, Theron and Redford but there was something about this film that just didn’t work. Probably the fact that it was about golf and it ran over two hours- when there isn’t a lot of interesting stuff going on, two hours really seems like an eternity.
The scenery was the only redeeming quality of this film which really shouldn’t be the case with stars like Damon and Smith. These characters felt shallow and unauthentic for the entire movie. I love Will Smith but seeing him as a meek and mellow character is unacceptable, I would have had enjoyed the film more had the roles of Damon and Smith been reversed. I expect this kind of character more from Damon than Smith. I like Smith intense and full of emotion and a role like this just doesn’t work for him. He has a lot of emotional range as an actor, but this isn’t the range of emotions moviegoers like to see from him. But even if you can buy Smith in this role, the film still feels awkward and pointless. There were times when it wanted to be more than a sports movie but it just didn’t know how to get there.