If you’ve always wanted to know what golfing looked like in the 1920s, Bobby Jones — Stroke of Genius provides the answer: It looked like a Ralph Lauren fantasy of lushly civilized tweed. In this bucolic biopic, gentlemen stroll from one sunstruck fairway to the next clad in knickers, bow ties, Scottish caps, and jackets woven into the finest patterns of argyle and herringbone. The golf courses are emerald, but the dominant color is beige — the beige of an older, WASPier, calmer America. As one of those Aaron Copland knockoff scores soars and swells, optimistic as the morning dew, Bobby Jones (Jim Caviezel), the greatest golfer of his era, pulls back his club and swings, sending the ball onto an arcing journey of such precision and power that its arrival on the green is practically a form of predestination. The message is clear: There were other great golfers, but Bobby Jones won because he believed in something…higher.
A drawling Georgia native, Jones, unlike his competitors, never went pro. Such was his love of the game, and ”Bobby Jones — Stroke of Genius” is a leisurely celebration of the purity of his victory. It’s an atmospherically appealing and crisply shot movie, and yet, like ”Seabiscuit,” which it is clearly out to emulate, it never quite summons enough adversity to ballast true drama.
Jim Caviezel, wearing a flat shock of honey-blond hair, with a grin that flickers on and off his vertically ascetic face, looks at times nearly as tormented as he did in ”The Passion of the Christ.” He plays Jones as a saint of golf, a man whose only sin is his perfectionistic tendency to throw five- irons and shout things like ”S—fire and damnation!” when he messes up a shot. Caviezel, however, never really convinced me of his sportsman’s anger. He’s a curiously remote actor, like Kevin Costner without the lazy-boy sexual charm. Jeremy Northam, as Jones’ opposite number, the happily mercenary and dissolute Walter Hagen, has a spark of corruption early on, so I was disappointed to watch their rivalry get gradually defanged. It’s pleasing to see Jones triumph, digging his way out of sand traps with miraculous wedge shots, but ”Stroke of Genius” is proof that when a movie is nothing but inspirational, it can sink and disappear into a field of dreams.