American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
Bobby Jones (1902-1971) was perhaps the greatest golfer who ever lived. Not even Tiger Woods has equaled Jones' triumph in 1930, when he became the only player to win the U.S. Open, the British Open, the U.S. Amateur and the British Amateur in the same year. Then he retired from competition -- still only 28. Odds are good no golfer will ever equal that record -- if only because no golfer good enough to do it will be an amateur. Jones also won seven U.S. titles in a row, an achievement that may be unmatchable.
Jones was not only an amateur, but an amateur who had to earn a living, so that he couldn't play golf every day and mostly played only in championship-level tournaments. This makes him sound like a man who played simply for love of the game, but "Bobby Jones: Stroke of Genius" shows us a man who seems driven to play, a man obsessed; there seems less joy than compulsion in his career, and the movie contrasts him with the era's top professional, Walter Hagen (Jeremy Northam), who seems to enjoy himself a lot more.
Jim Caviezel ("The Passion of the Christ") plays Jones as an adult, after childhood scenes showing a young boy who becomes fascinated by the game and watches great players while hiding in the rough. He comes from a family dominated by a strict puritanical grandfather, but Jones' father, "Big Bob" (Brett Rice) is supportive. Not so Jones' wife Mary (Claire Forlani), who plays a role that has become standard in the biographies of great men -- the woman who wishes her man would give up his dream and spend more time at home with her and the children.
Of course, Mary sees a side of Bobby that's invisible to the world. The man is tortured. He feels he must enter tournaments and win them, to prove something he can never quite articulate, to show "them" without being sure who they are. And he is often in physical pain. After a sickly childhood, he grows up into a reed-thin man with a tense face, and doctors have only to look at him to prescribe rest. His stomach starts to hurt at about the same time he begins to drink and smoke, and although the movie does not portray him as an alcoholic, we hold that as a hypothesis until we find the pain is caused by syringomyelia, a spinal disease that would cripple him later in life.