The Legend of Bagger Vance is the story of a has-been Savannah, Ga., golfer who is helped by his mystical caddie in a match against immortals Bobby Jones and Walter Hagen. The Saturday Early Show examines its spiritual message.
Robert Redford, who directed the film, says that in this movie and in life, we are all looking for one authentic swing.
Will Smith portrays Bagger Vance, materializing out of the dark of night to guide Matt Damon's embattled Rannulph Junuh on a spiritual journey.
Junuh was Savannah's golden boy, before the war stole his will to live and his golf swing. Charlize Theron's Adele is Junah's lost love, and the exhibition golf match she plans for Savannah becomes Junah's chance to reconnect. Bagger carries Junuh through 72 grueling holes of golf and some soul searching.
The match is set in 1931, and not only is Junuh doing battle with himself, but he's up against two of the greatest golfers of the day: Bobby Jones and Walter Hagen.
"I was interested in the historical aspect of golf along with the metaphorical," says director Robert Redford. "The idea of showing golf the way it was played and what it looked like in 1930 was fascinating to me."
In 1930, Jones was America's golf hero, a grand slam champion, before the term became popular, and Hagen was a crowd pleaser and a golf legend.
In Bagger Vance, Redford's attention to period detail is extensive, including whip-it swings, the hickory shaft clubs, and original golf bags imported from Scotland. The clothing includes gentlemanly knickers and ties, and not a Nike swoosh is in sight. Redford, who's been playing golf on and off since age 11, delved into the sport with the same reverence seen in his portrait of fly fishing in A River Runs Through It.
"Fly fishing and golf share something in common," Redford says. "They have an almost biblical sensibility. The people who play them have a biblical sense about them - it goes that deep."
"It can be very close to gambling what happens when the fever hits and the guy can't get away from the table," Redford says. "You get to the point where you can't get away from the course, and your family leaves and your business leaves because it has gone so deep."
Redford found a true golf junkie in Will Smith. The actor is so hooked, he built a practice range at home.
"It is like no other sport, no other game," Smith says. "It just takes you to a really crazy spiritual place."
But leading man Damon was more familiar with swinging a baseball bat than a golf club. Damon spent 30 days glued to a golf pro, blistering his hands, to create a believable swing.
Says Damon, "Actually I figured out in this movie that if you take a golf club all the way back and come through as hard as you can and drive the club straight down into the ground and keep your body going, you can actually break a rib."
Co-star Charlize Theron was not a golfer.
Did she come to understand the lure of golf through the movie?
"I didn't in the beginning, and then halfway through the movie the bug bit," she says.
Theron was back on the links recently for VH1's Fairway to Heaven golf event, along with Smith, who showed off his swing.
He says his golf has improved. "I am much better. I have Bagger Vanced myself," he quips.