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Legend Of Bagger Vance, The

Matt Damon is Rocky with a golf club in Robert Redford's above-par sports drama.


Once considered the most promising young golfer in the South, Rannulph Junuh (Damon) hasn't been the same since some World War I trench action messed with his head. A decade later, his society-gal, former lover (Charlize Theron) needs a local boy to take on America's top two linksmen in a high-stakes tournament she's organized. Can Rannulph, aided by mysterious philosopher-caddy Bagger Vance (Will Smith), get his swing back in time to win it all?


The talented Damon turns on some serious movie-star charm in an all-American role one can't help but imagining director-producer Redford playing 30 years earlier. World-class smoothie Smith is similarly easy to watch delivering most of the script's best lines as a golf bag-hauling guru who approaches the game with the detachment of a Zen master. The cast's weakest link is South African bombshell Theron ("The Cider House Rules"), uncomfortably outside her range as a Depression-era Scarlett O'Hara trying to hold onto the family golf resort.


Redford's old-school Hollywood style is instantly recognizable, from his optimistic view of human nature and mile-wide sentimental streak to the film's lovingly photographed outdoor imagery. Viewers sense they are in the hands of a careful pro who will neither make a serious misstep nor take things in too surprising a direction. It's little wonder the Sundance Kid was attracted to Steven Pressfield's source novel. The film's elevation of golf to a metaphor for living is a direct successor to Redford's use of trout fishing in "A River Runs Through It" and horse training in "The Horse Whisperer," not to mention his starring role as a baseball player in "The Natural."

Bottom Line

Like a PGA champ, "Bagger Vance" edges out the competition with a series of well-calculated strokes.