Finding Your Authentic Swing
The Legend of Bagger Vance
Review by Ross Anthony

Jack Lemon walks out onto the fairway and has a heart attack. During this surprisingly un-traumatic experience he relives (that is, narrates to us) a story about a mysteriously wise (perhaps mythical) caddy that comes to the aid of a broken man back during the great depression. The story is told in the style of mid-80's films (like "The Natural"): warm, big, movie-like. Nothing is all that real, but really swell nonetheless.

No artificial enemy torments our protagonists for tension (I found that refreshing). Well, there is a play at it early on, but most of the story's conflict rests squarely on Rannulph Junuh's struggle with himself. He's a first rate golfer, struck down in his prime (note the similarity to "The Natural") by war memories. The whole town of Savannah needs him to step up and play a big match against the two best golfers of the era.

Damon (as Junuh) plays fine enough, but you might think that Robert Redford would be a "Natural" for the part, in which case you wouldn't be surprised to learn Redford directs. Actually, the actor I think of as a young Redford came to my mind - Brad Pitt. And though Will Smith does a better job than The Legend of Bagger Vanceanticipated of playing the wise old (er... young) caddy Bagger Vance, Morgan Freemon would have been the more obvious choice. Yeah, Pitt and Freemon - I'm sure of it. Aside from that, the other casting choices were excellent. J. Michael Moncrief stroking a better than par swing as the 10-year-old Jack lemon.

Schmaltzy, sure...
"God is happiest when his children are at play."
"Harmony of the ball and field."
"Let the swing choose you."

But hearty and hopeful too, and although it is structurally formulaic, the film goes several hundred yards in search of unformulaic details.

Rolling off the green on a few strokes, the picture lays the ball right in the hole a couple of times as well. Improvements could have been made by striking Junuh with a few more (and detailed) flashbacks of wartime misery. Also, I'd have woven that last dance into a thing of beauty rather than a loose end in need of tying. That said, in a gentle and warm kind of way, I enjoyed the film. Not over the top great, but decidedly above average.

  • The Legend of Bagger Vance. Copyright © 2000. Rated PG-13.
  • Starring Matt Damon, J. Michael Moncrief, Will Smith, Charlize Theron, Bruce McGill, Joel Gretsch, Peter Gerety, Lane Smith, Michael O'Neill.
  • Directed by Robert Redford.
  • Screenplay by jeremy Leven based on the book by Steven Pressfield.
  • Produced by Chris Brigham & Joseph Reidy at Dreamworks/20th Ctry Fox/Wildwood/Allied.


Copyright © 2000. Ross Anthony, currently based in Los Angeles, has scripted and shot documentaries, music videos, and shorts in 35 countries across North America, Europe, Africa and Asia. For more reviews visit:

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Last Modified: Saturday, 16-Sep-2006 08:04:36 PDT