Friday, September 19, 2008

Friday's Featured Film - 9/19/08

New movies are usually released to theaters every Friday, but who’s got 10 bucks these days to drop on a movie that may well be a load of crap? Given those odds, each Friday I offer an alternative on DVD that you can rent at your local video store (or in some cases, avoid at all costs). Some will be new releases, others you may have to hunt for, but all of them are available to light up your small screen should it be a lazy Friday night.

The Legend of Bagger Vance

With the Ryder Cup in Louisville this weekend, I’ve got golf on the brain – which means that this week’s Friday’s Featured Film will be my favorite golf movie (I’ve got power outages on the brain, too, but I couldn’t think of a great power outage movie). Quick, name the golf movie that Will Smith was in! Can you do it? Of course you can, since you’ve already read the title and looked at the poster. But suppose I’d asked that question before you read this post, could you have named it? The Legend of Bagger Vance is one of Smith’s lesser known movies, and that’s a shame – because it’s also one of his best.

The movie is set in Savannah, Georgia in the 1920’s. Rannulph Junuh (Matt Damon) was a young golfer who had it all – fame, talent, and the love of the beautiful Adele Invergordon (Charlize Theron). However, Junuh goes off to fight in World War I and returns a broken shell of a man, living as a drunken loner on the outskirts of town. Years later, Adele (now estranged from Junuh) organizes a golf match between the two greatest players of the day, Bobby Jones (Joel Gretsch) and Walter Hagen (Bruce McGill) to try an recoup her family’s losses from the stock market crash, and she needs a local talent to generate interest. She implores Junuh to play, and that very night he is visited by a mysterious traveler named Bagger Vance (Smith), who strangely offers to be his caddy. Intrigued by the man, Junuh accepts the offer and soon discovers that his time in the war caused him to lose much more than his golf swing, and he begins to find redemption in unlikely places.

The sport-as-metaphor-for-life motif has been basically played to death in films, but here’s one instance where it doesn’t feel stale in the least. One could easily mistake the plot setup for just another underdog story, but the movie is actually more of a tale of personal redemption with golf as merely the vehicle. Robert Redford skillfully weaves a story that tugs at the emotions without ever feeling fake or schmaltzy. The cast is good, and Smith is excellent as always, but it’s the names that you don’t recognize that really stand out. In particular McGill, the consummate journeyman, takes a character that we suspect from the outset will be a cardboard cutout and turns him into one we actually can connect with. The film is beautiful to look at, and Rachel Portman’s score compliments the visuals perfectly. It’s a quiet film, and not nearly as commercial as Smith’s other fare, but check it out tonight and I think you’ll find that it’s every bit as good.

The Legend of Bagger Vance is rated PG-13 for some sexual content.

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