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 Michael Nozik
Jake Eberts
Robert Redford
Screenplay by Jeremy Leven
Based on The Legend of Bagger Vance
by Steven Pressfield
Starring Will Smith
Matt Damon
Charlize Theron
Narrated by Jack Lemmon
Music by Rachel Portman
Cinematography Michael Ballhaus
Edited by Hank Corwin
Distributed by DreamWorks Pictures (USA)
20th Century Fox (non-USA)
Release dates
  • November 3, 2000 (2000-11-03)
Running time
126 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $80 million
Box office $39,459,427[1]

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

On release, the film was criticised by several black commentators and reviewers for using the "magical negro" . (Yet Redford, in his earlier film, The Natural, adapted from the 1952 Bernard Malamud novel, made use of a similar plot device: the woman in white, the player's childhood sweetheart, who magically appears at his baseball games and helps him find his soul lost to something earlier in his life and to victory for his team.) [2][3][4] Since the film's release, some in the mainstream media have also described the film as flawed and racially insensitive.[5]


Promising golfer Rannulph Junuh (Matt Damon) is the favorite son of Savannah, Georgia and a noteworthy golfer; Adele Invergordon (Charlize Theron) was his girlfriend from a wealthy family 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 returns to Georgia and lives a shadowy life as a drunk, golf being just a distant memory.

Years later (circa 1930[6]), at the start of the Great Depression, 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 built as the Depression struck. However, she needs a local participant to generate local interest, so she asks her estranged love Junuh 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. He then helps Junuh to come to grips with his personal demons and helps him to 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 also 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. Bagger leaves him as mysteriously as he met him, with the 18th hole unfinished. 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, and Junuh and Adele get back together.

During the match, Bagger Vance has a young assistant, Hardy Greaves (J. Michael Moncrief), who caddies after Bagger leaves. Hardy experiences a heart attack and loses consciousness. Ultimately, Hardy, now an old man (Jack Lemmon), awakens and sees a never-aging Bagger Vance on the golf course. As Bagger beckons, Hardy follows, possibly to the after life.


Production notes [edit]

Similarities to the Hindu epic Mahabharata[edit]

The plot is roughly based on the Hindu sacred text the Bhagavad Gita and Ramayana, where the Warrior/Hero Arjuna and Hanuman (R. Junuh) refuses to fight. The god Krishna and jambvan appears as Bhagavan or brahman (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.[7]


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,[8] just off Hilton Head Island.[9] Certain segments of this film were also filmed in Savannah, Georgia, USA and Jekyll Island, Georgia, USA.[10]


Critical response [edit]

Reaction from the movie critics was mixed. Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a score of 43% based on 129 reviews.[11]

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".[12] 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".[13]

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".[5]

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.[14] According to the Internet Movie Data Base website (, the film's total gross came to $30,695,227, far short of its estimated $60 million budget.[15]

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]


  1. ^ "'Box office". 
  2. ^ Okorafor-Mbachu, Nnedi (2004-10-25). "Stephen King's Super-Duper Magical Negroes". Strange Horizons. Retrieved 2006-12-03. 
  3. ^ Gonzalez, Susan (2001-03-02). "Director Spike Lee slams 'same old' black stereotypes in today's films". Yale Bulletin & Calendar. Yale University. Retrieved 2008-12-29. 
  4. ^ Colombe, Audrey (October 2002). "White Hollywood's new Black boogeyman". Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media (45). Retrieved 2006-12-03. 
  5. ^ a b Farley, Christopher John (2000-05-27). "That Old Black Magic". Time. Retrieved 2007-02-03. 
  6. ^ Jones actually retired from golf in 1930, but a theater playing The Public Enemy (1931) is seen.
  7. ^
  8. ^ Colleton River Club
  9. ^ The Bagger Vance Hole: Watch For That Alligator Hazard
  10. ^ IMDb The Legend of Bagger Vance
  11. ^ "Bagger Vance". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. 
  12. ^ Roger Ebert (November 3, 2000). "Roger Ebert: The Legend Of Bagger Vance". Chicago Sun Times. 
  13. ^ George Perry (February 22, 2001). "The Legend of Bagger Vance (2001)". BBC. 
  14. ^ "The Legend of Bagger Vance". Box Office Mojo. 
  15. ^ "Box Office". 

External links[edit]