Field of Dreams (Phil Alden Robinson, 1989); USA
Reviewed by Byron Potau. Viewed on DVD.
For anyone who has the bond of baseball with their father, Field of Dreams carries a strong emotional impact. For those who don’t have this bond, they may be wondering what all the fuss is about, but even those people cannot deny the talent of those involved in this film.
Thirty six-year-old Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner) has newly settled down with his wife Annie (Amy Madigan) and young daughter Karin (Gaby Hoffman) and become a farmer in his wife’s home state of Iowa. While out in his cornfield he hears a voice that says “If you build it, he will come.” Ray interprets this message as meaning that if he builds a baseball field in his cornfield that “Shoeless” Joe Jackson (Ray Liotta) will get to come play baseball again. Ray, scared that he is turning into his father (whom, he tells his wife never did one spontaneous thing in his life), builds the field which brings him and Annie to the brink of bankruptcy. But when Shoeless Joe wanders out of the cornfield, Ray and Annie are determined to keep the field. The other members of the 1919 Chicago White Sox (Black Sox) are able to come out and Ray, Annie, and Karin get to watch them play, until the voice comes back with another message for Ray.
This film is magical and, to writer/director Phil Alden Robinson’s credit, I never question whether the characters would really go through with the things they do. The characters all have their reasons that motivate them and it makes the film work. The acting in the film is uniformly excellent, with my only criticism being that Liotta’s “Shoeless” Joe bats right handed in the film. “Shoeless” Joe was a left handed batter in real life. Aside from Costner, in an understated and delightful performance, two actors stood out just slightly above the rest of this excellent cast: James Earl Jones as Terrence Mann, a Salinger like reclusive writer from the 1960’s, and Burt Lancaster as Doc “Moonlight” Graham, a doctor who had a very brief major league career during which he never got to bat. Both are very charming, passionate, and commanding in their performances with some wonderful dialogue from Robinson. Just as important is James Horner’s tender, melancholy score which helps set a nostalgic mood alongside Costner’s gentle opening narration, and also underlines many of the film’s most significant moments. The film is a powerful ode to baseball, and speaks to every father who never made it to the big leagues and tried to get his son to make it for him, to every son’s willful defiance of his father for the sake of being contrary, and to every father and son game of catch that, under the surface, meant so much more. It may mean more to some than it does to others, but it’s that way with every film. I happen to think this is a masterpiece, and still one of the most heartwarming of films that will get you every time.