The Legend of Bagger Vance

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The Legend of Bagger Vance
Legend of bagger vance ver2.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Robert Redford
Produced by
Screenplay by Jeremy Leven
Based on The Legend of Bagger Vance
by Steven Pressfield
Starring
Narrated by Jack Lemmon
Music by Rachel Portman
Cinematography Michael Ballhaus
Edited by Hank Corwin
Production
company
Distributed by DreamWorks Pictures
Release date
  • November 3, 2000 (2000-11-03)
Running time
126 minutes[1]
Country United States
Language English
Budget $80 million
Box office $39.5 million[2]

The Legend of Bagger Vance is a 2000 sports drama film directed by Robert Redford, and stars Will Smith, Matt Damon and Charlize Theron. The screenplay by Jeremy Leven is based on the 1995 book The Legend of Bagger Vance: A Novel of Golf and the Game of Life by Steven Pressfield, it takes place in the U.S. state of Georgia in 1931. The film served as the final roles of Jack Lemmon before his death the following year and Lane Smith before his death five years later.

On release, the film was a box office bomb, grossing almost $40 million worldwide, and received mixed to negative reviews; criticism was targeted by several African American commentators and reviewers for employing the "magical negro" stereotype.[3]

Plot[edit]

As an old man having his sixth heart attack while playing golf, Hardy Greaves (Jack Lemmon), contemplates how his wife used to ask him (before her passing) why he insisted on playing "a game that seems destined to kill[4]" him. Explaining his love for the game, he begins the story of his childhood idol; Rannulph Junuh (Matt Damon).

Junuh is the favorite son of Savannah, Georgia and a noteworthy golfer. From a wealthy family, the beautiful Adele Invergordon (Charlize Theron) was Junuh's girlfriend before he went off to war. While serving as a captain in the US Army during World War I, Junuh is traumatized when his entire company is wiped out in battle. Though he earns the Medal of Honor, he disappears after the war, returning to Georgia years later to live a shadowy life as a drunk, golf being just a distant memory.

At the start of the Great Depression (circa 1930[5]), Adele is trying to recover her family's lost fortune by holding a four-round, two-day exhibition match between Bobby Jones (Joel Gretsch) and Walter Hagen (Bruce McGill), the best golfers of the era, with a grand prize of $10,000, at a golf resort her father opened as the Depression struck. However, she needs a local participant to generate local interest. The young Greaves (J. Michael Moncrief) speaks up for his golf hero, Junuh, prompting Adele to ask her estranged love to play.

Junuh is approached by a mysterious traveler carrying a suitcase, who appears while Junuh is trying to hit golf balls into the dark void of night. The man identifies himself as Bagger Vance (Will Smith) and says he will be Junuh's caddy. With Greaves as the young assistant caddy, Bagger helps Junuh come to grips with his personal demons and play golf again.

When the match starts, Jones and Hagen each play well in their distinctive ways, but the disengaged Junuh plays poorly and is far behind after the first round. With Bagger caddying for him and giving advice, Junuh rediscovers his "authentic swing" in the second round and makes up some ground. In the third round, he closes the gap even more, hitting a hole in one in the process. Junuh and Adele find their romance rekindling.

Late in the final round, Junuh disregards Bagger's advice at a crucial point and after that plays poorly. He hits a ball into a forest, where he has a traumatic World War I flashback, but Bagger's words help him to focus on golf. Junuh pulls back to a tie with Jones and Hagen, then has a chance to win on the final hole, but has the integrity to call a penalty on himself when his ball moves after he tries to remove a loose impediment.

Seeing from this that Junuh has grown and matured, Bagger decides his golfer doesn't need him any more. With the 18th hole left unfinished, Bagger gives the position of caddy to Greaves, and leaves Junuh as mysteriously as he came.

Though losing a chance to win because of the penalty, Junuh sinks an improbable putt and the match ends in a gentlemanly three-way tie. The three golfers shake hands with all of Savannah cheering. Junuh and Adele get back together.

The old Greaves wakes up seemingly fine and sees an unaged Bagger Vance beckoning him from a distance. Hardy follows, presumably to the after life.

Cast[edit]

Production notes [edit]

Similarities to the Hindu epic Mahabharata[edit]

The plot is loosely based on the Hindu sacred text the Bhagavad Gita, where the Warrior/Hero Arjuna (R. Junuh) refuses to fight. The god Krishna appears as Bhagavan (Bagger Vance) to help him to follow his path as the warrior and hero that he was meant to be. This relationship was fully explained by Steven J. Rosen in his book Gita on the Green, for which Steven Pressfield wrote the foreword.[6]

Filming[edit]

Portions of the exhibition match were set at the Kiawah Island Golf Resort in South Carolina, United States, considered one of the toughest in the country. Jack Lemmon had his movie heart attack on No. 11 of the resort's Cougar Point golf course. The final hole in the film was temporary, so the filming did not interfere with the club activities, and cost US $200,000 to build. However, most of the golf scenes were filmed at Colleton River Plantation,[7] just off Hilton Head Island.[8] Certain segments of this film were also filmed in Savannah, Georgia, USA and Jekyll Island, Georgia, USA.[9]

Reception[edit]

Critical response [edit]

Reaction from the movie critics was mixed. Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a score of 43% based on 129 reviews.[10]

Film critic Roger Ebert, who gave it 3½ stars, said, "It handles a sports movie the way Billie Holiday handled a trashy song, by finding the love and pain beneath the story. Redford and his writer, Jeremy Leven, starting from a novel by Steven Pressfield, are very clear in their minds about what they want to do. They want to explain why it is possible to devote your life to the love of golf, and they want to hint that golf and life may have a lot in common".[11] The BBC's George Perry called it a "sumptuously photographed film" but added that "in spite of being lovely to look at, it is pretentious piffle, although Will Smith shows skill and subtlety in his ludicrous role".[12]

Time called it one of the most "embarrassing" films of recent years for its treatment of African Americans and the use of a "Magical African-American Friend".[3]

Box office[edit]

The Legend of Bagger Vance opened at #3 at the U.S. box office, grossing $11,516,712 from 2,061 theaters.[13] According to the Internet Movie Data Base website (imdb.com), the film's total gross came to $30,695,227, far short of its estimated $80 million budget.[14]

Soundtrack [edit]

The now out-of-print soundtrack to The Legend of Bagger Vance was released on November 7, 2000. It was mostly written by Rachel Portman, except for tracks one ("My Best Wishes"), thirteen ("Bluin’ the Blues") and fourteen ("Mood Indigo"), which were written by Fats Waller, Muggsy Spanier and Duke Ellington, respectively.

Track list
  1. My Best Wishes (2:27)
  2. The Legend of Bagger Vance (2:11)
  3. Savannah Needs a Hero (4:53)
  4. Bagger Offers to Caddy for Junuh (4:07)
  5. Bagger & Hardy Measure the Course at Night (2:32)
  6. The Day of the Match Dawns (3:07)
  7. Birdie (1:46)
  8. Junuh Sees the Field (5:11)
  9. Hole in One (2:30)
  10. Junuh Comes Out of the Woods (3:55)
  11. Bagger Leaves (3:12)
  12. Old Hardy Joins Bagger by the Sea (5:50)
  13. Bluin' the Blues (2:27)
  14. Mood Indigo (3:07)
  • Total soundtrack time: 47:15

In popular culture[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

External links[edit]