Judge David Johnson is glad this film cleared up his confusion: it's definitely safe to drink Kool-aid offered by Bobby Jones.
Golfers wear weird pants.
Have you ever heard of Bobby Jones? I had, but prior to this movie, I couldn't tell you a thing about him. I knew he was some famous golfer, but that's where the info-train stopped. While I am certain that he is a clubhouse name in golfing circles, the Bobby Jones story was never prevalent in the societal matrix in which I ran. Now, I come to you an informed man, and proudly present to you the most amount of words I have ever written about a golfing movie in my life.
Facts of the Case
Bobby Jones was apparently one of the greatest, perhaps, the greatest golfers ever. Jim Caviezel (The Passion of the Christ) plays Jones, and brings a new red hairdo and some crazy golfing caps to the role.
The film tracks Jones, whose career spanned the early 20th century, from early boyhood, through adolescence and finally to his twenties, where Caviezel picks up the acting duties. As a tyke, little Bobby Jones was a frail, sickly kid, living under the auspices of protective parents, and a Puritanical grandfather.
His love affair with golf began with his father, a salesman for Coca-Cola. To woo clients, Bob Jones Sr. (Brent Rice) would take them on the golf course abutting his house and shoot the breeze while shooting the holes. Bobby Junior absorbed the game, and over time developed his own skills, mixing relentless practice (watch him hit a ball into a trash can!) and clandestine sojourns to the course to learn professional stances and swings from his father's guests.
Bobby's skills grow exponentially with the onset of adolescence, and soon enough he's playing in amateur tournaments with men three times his age. His gift is recognized early by a journalist for the Atlanta Journal, O.B. Keeley (Malcolm McDowell), who ends up following the athlete through his career, becoming a trusted confidant. Other major players in the super-golfer's life are his wife Mary (Claire Forlani) and his rival on the green Walter Hagen (Jeremy Northam).
But it's golf that the movie is about, and Bobby's career is what the flick centers on, from his early struggles with his temper and his underachievement, to his seemingly unending string of second place finishes, to his eventual domination of golf's Grand Slam—the British Open, British Amateur, U.S. Open and U.S. Amateur championships—and his entry into the annals of the Golf Gods.
This movie was obviously made by people with a passionate, authentic interest in Bobby Jones the man and Bobby Jones the golfer. I can't fault anyone for their love of the story. However, it was the story itself that left me yawning. Jones appeared to be a real decent guy, and his impressive accomplishments were undeniable, but his journey to the top, at least as represented in the film, just was not that dramatic.
The major conflicts that Bobby Jones faces are:
(1) Finishing second a lot.
(2) Varicose veins.
(3) His temper
(4) Traveling a lot and golfing.
Of these, the latter two get the most mileage in the drama category. Jones's struggle with his temper is by far the most ridiculous, with Bobby simply swearing over and over again on missed shots. The "drama" reaches its zenith when he throws a club and it bounces into a woman's leg. Hey, I'm glad Bobby Jones never snapped and dismembered his caddy with a hacksaw, but as far as onscreen tension, his anger management issues are not that compelling.
His insane schedule and the impact it had on his family are probably the richest conflicts available to the filmmakers, and they take advantage of it. The struggles of his wife, trying to raise their children while Jones is out on tour, are well done, and build nicely to the big decision he makes at the end of the movie.
On the sports side of things, more time is spent on Jones-as-an-also-ran than on the dominant force he would later become. Yeah, I get the whole inspirational haul-yourself-by-your-bootstraps thing, but by the end of the film I was less than wowed by his on-screen performance. He lost a lot, then won a lot; but the winning seemed to be more glossed over.
Northam's Hagen is the most charismatic and complex character here, but is given the short end of the stick as far as character arcs go. The filmmakers start to get into some really interesting stuff about competition—the juxtaposition between being an amateur and playing for money, the grappling with fame and legacy, the envy mixed with respect—and Hagen appears to be a great foil for this exploration. When he tells Bobby that he can't "just be a footnote" to his greatness, that's good stuff. However, the rivalry between the two is abandoned by the end, and Hagen just ebbs away, actually becoming a footnote in the movie.
Caviezel does his best, but Jones just wasn't that complicated a character. He had some anxiety issues, but basically he was good guy, and that's fantastic. It just doesn't make for hard-hitting cinema. And golf, as opposed to hockey or football or basketball, is not a sport that a sports movie can be easily built upon (unless it stars Ted Knight and a gopher). The sport just doesn't have that built-in visceral appeal that translates well to the big screen. As such, the focus must shift toward the golfer, and frankly, Jones' story just didn't move me. Let me put it this way: Bobby Jones, Stroke of Genius seemed less like a movie for the masses, and more like an exceptionally well-done historical video from the Booby Jones museum tour.
As I mentioned, this movie was lovingly crafted by real fans of the story, and the bonus materials are further evidence of that. An audio commentary with director Rowdy Herrington is full of Bobby Jones anecdotes, as well as the requisite technical info. Herrington's exuberance about the subject matter is apparent. A lengthy making-of featurette goes deeper into the behind-the-scenes process, and the push to get the movie made. A few spots focus on different aspects of Jones the person, including the speech he made at St. Andrews, some information on the spinal disease that killed him in 1971, and a mini-commercial about the Georgia course he played on while growing up (narrated by an obviously camera-shy bigwig). Some unfunny bloopers and disposable deleted scenes also are included. Oh, and there's also a narration track for the visually impaired, something I've never seen before, where a woman describes the action taking place in the movie, blow by blow. Cool.
The movie looks nice in its 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, though the colors could have been a little more vibrant. This is a bright, lush movie, and I would have liked to see more strength in the color palette. A front-loaded 5.1 Dolby Digital track delivers the sound. It was fine, but some more ambient sound from the rear channels would have been appreciated.
Bobby Jones was a good guy, a loving father, and loyal husband. He placed others first, and was humble about his greatness. I'm glad his story was told, and I'm glad I was made familiar with it. As captivating celluloid goes, Bobby Jones, Stroke of Genius just doesn't land the birdie. Maybe a bogie…
The court is sorry it say it can't unequivocally recommend the movie, though golf enthusiasts will surely enjoy it.
Give us your feedback!
What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice
• Director's Commentary
Review content copyright © 2004 David Johnson; Site design and review layout copyright © 2016 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.