The Legend of Bagger Vance

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Zen Golf & the Art of Soul Maintenance could be the subtitle of The Legend of Bagger Vance: “You gotta let da ball go in da hole,” Will Smith’s titular spiritual mechanic and caddy, Bagger, enlightens his reluctant disciple, Matt Damon’s Rannulph Junuh.

A decade or so shy of a century ago, the parlor muses of Savannah, Georgia sang the deeds of Junuh, the golden boy of their greens and fairways: His name was the household word of golf. It was also on the ruby lips of the prettiest girl in town, Adele Invergarden (Charlize Theron of Reindeer Games), the daughter of Savannah’s wealthiest man. How they danced the summer nights away.

But the waltzes gave way to marches as the Great War swept over Europe. The hero of the links became a hero of the killing fields. Tarnished by mud and blood, Captain Junuh comes trudging home again, ducking the Main Street hurrahs, confetti and parades. He retires into a bottle, a shadow of his former shelf — until Bagger Vance walks out of the night.

Director Robert Redford’s (The Horse Whisperer) The Legend of Bagger Vance wears its message on its sleeve and the loose threads of Jeremy Leven’s (Don Juan DeMarco) script unravel with the weight. Bagger is this year’s Yoda (without the fractured grammar), a pop Zen master with a one-note gospel: Golf is life. Leven stomps the metaphor into the ground like a divot. “There’s only one shot in perfect harmony with the field,” Bagger casually preaches. “Let the shot choose us.” Joseph Campbell said it more concisely more than a decade ago: “Follow your bliss.”

Novelist W. Somerset Maugham told a similar tale a half-century ago in The Razor’s Edge. The Legend of Bagger Vance just puts the search for the meaning of life in golf drag.

James Keith La Croix writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail letters@metrotimes.com.

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