It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
Look how silky this movie is, and how completely in command of its tone. Robert Redford's "The Legend of Bagger Vance" could be a movie about prayer, music or mathematics because it is really about finding yourself at peace with the thing you do best. Most of the movie is about an epic golf tournament, but it is not a sports movie in any conventional sense. It is the first zen movie about golf.
I watched it aware of what a delicate touch Redford brings to the material. It could have been punched up into cliches and easy thrills, but no: 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.
I am not a golfer. It doesn't matter. Golf or any game is not about the rules or tools, but about how you conduct yourself. Civilized games make civilized societies. You look at the movie and you see that if athletes are not gentlemen and gentlewomen, there is no reason to watch them. Michael Jordan is a gentleman. Roger Clemens is not. You see how it works.
"The Legend of Bagger Vance" takes place in Savannah, Ga., in the first years of the Depression. A man builds a great golf course, goes broke and shoots himself. His daughter Adele (Charlize Theron) faces ruin, but risks everything on a $10,000 tournament. She invites the two greatest golfers in the world: Bobby Jones (Joel Gretsch) and Walter Hagen (Bruce McGill). And she also persuades Rannulph Junuh (Matt Damon), who was the greatest player in Savannah until he went off to World War I and something broke inside. He spent the 1920s drinking and playing poker.