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"Whatever you do don't stop hitting the ball"
on 31 March 2005
Over earnest, intermittently dull, and with an excessively embellished musical score, Bobby Jones: Stroke of Genius is still pretty entertaining, and golfing fanatics are going to totally love it. Other viewers certainly don't have to know anything about golf to appreciate the film because the pleasure in watching is leaning all about who Georgia born golf legend Booby Jones actually was, and also watching actor, Jim Caviezel do a terrific job of bringing the highly moral, focused, and often-reluctant star golfer to life.
Bobby Jones was the only man ever to win the four major tournaments in one year. A man of integrity, he disliked fame, hated the thought of playing for money, and was the consummate gentleman amateur who won simply by showing up. Battling ill health, and plagued by a nervous disorder, Bobby retired in 1930, at age 28. This good hearted biopic traces the golf master's evolution from a sickly Atlanta childhood, where his father encouraged him to play golf against his mother's better judgment, to a 14-year-old competition wonder where he goes up against the pros., to his Grand Slam rout of the U.S. Amateur, U.S. Open, British Amateur and British Open titles.
The movie's story is generic in every respect, but the pleasure of watching is in Caviezel's totally nuanced performance, where he brings a surprising degree of emotional heft to the role of Jones. Gifted from an early age, and totally driven, Caviezel plays him as a man who has tremendous veracity and honesty, and who wants to do the right thing by his wife, Mary (a gorgeous Claire Forlani), while also satisfying his concerned but loving parents Bob and Clara (Connie Ray and Brett Rice). He's so ambitious, and single-minded, that he eventually goes on to complete two Masters, obtain a law degree, and try his hand at selling real estate while still playing championship golf!
Throughout the film the viewer is introduced to a variety of affable and genial folk, both in America and in Scotland, who influence and affect his life: O.B. Keeler (Malcolm McDowell), is the Atlanta Journal sportswriter who becomes Jones' best friend and confidant; Walter Hagen (a strutting and preening Jeremy Northam), is Jones's main competitor - a pleasure-seeking professional who is at times Bobby's friendly mentor but can't help be annoyed by his rival's ingenuous success, and Dan Albright, who plays Bobby's rigid, bible-bashing grandfather, who thinks Bobby should be doing something more productive with his time.
Although the movie is set against the background of the tumultuous 1920's where prohibition was in force, it doesn't really offer any lasting social comment, except in one scene where Bobby - forced to explain why he won't play for money - precipitously and calmly states that "money will ruin this game one day"; it's a starling reminder of how far money and sports have come.
The movie is gorgeous to look at, with the locations in Georgia and Scotland well chosen, as well as some of the most exquisitely contoured and gentle fairways. Much care has obviously been lavished on the costumes, designed by Beverly Safier, and other period detail given what was undeniably a limited budget. Yes - the film is at times ambling, staid, and considered, just like the game itself. And despite the vigorous, lets get on to the next chapter narrative, Bobby Jones: Stroke of Genius remains relaxed, leisurely, and unforced, exactly the way an enjoyable round of golf should be. Mike Leonard March 05.