Legend of Bagger Vance [2000]

The Legend of Bagger Vance doesn't break any new ground, but with Steven Pressfield's inspirational novel to guide them, director Robert Redford and screenwriter Jeremy Leven have tilled fertile soil with a graceful touch. Redford does for golf what A River Runs Through It did for fly-fishing: the sport is a conduit for a philosophy of living, and Redford achieves the small miracle of making golf a central metaphor that's visually compelling. Set in Savannah, Georgia, during the early '30s, the story charts the redemption of disillusioned World War I veteran and former golf champion Rannulph Junuh (Matt Damon), who emerges from self-imposed obscurity in an exhibition match against legendary golfers Bobby Jones (Joel Gretsch) and Walter Hagen (Bruce McGill). Having earlier abandoned the socialite (Charlize Theron) who has organized the tournament to promote her late father's spectacular golf resort, Junuh now depends on the support of a young fan (perfectly cast newcomer J. Michael Moncrief) and the mysterious Bagger Vance (Will Smith), a smiling Jiminy Cricket who serves as Junuh's caddy, golf guru, and Socratic angel of mercy. As Junuh regains the "authentic swing" he feared was lost forever, Redford guides his splendid cast through a spiritual journey that is specific to the discipline of golf and yet potently universal. As always, Redford also conveys his respect for nature and the rhythms of life as well as a sweet nostalgia for simpler times and purer values. With the casting of Jack Lemmon as the film's present-day narrator and elderly version of Moncrief's character, The Legend of Bagger Vance gains even greater dignity and, indeed, the glowing aura of legend. --Jeff Shannon

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