Field of Dreams (1989) / Drama-Fantasy
MPAA Rated: PG for language
Running Time: 107 min.
Cast: Kevin Costner, Amy Madigan, James Earl Jones, Ray Liotta, Timothy Busfield, Burt Lancaster, Gaby Hoffman, Frank Whaley, Art LaFleur
Director: Phil Alden Robinson
Screenplay: Phil Alden Robinson (based on the novel, "Shoeless Joe", by W.P. Kinsella)
Review published January 31, 2007
I have seen Field of Dreams multiple times since its release in theaters back in 1990; it's one of those films that I enjoy more as I grow older. I used to consider it good (but not great) film solely because it is different and holds my interest. I don't think of it in such trivial terms anymore. In fact, only in my most recent viewing, not having seen it in about 10 years, have I felt the emotional impact that it delivers in terms of its quiet sentimentality and themes of second chances in life. Just as the players on the field can only be seen by certain people at certain times, so too does the message of Field of Dreams only speak to those ready to hear it. Nearly two decades after its release, I no longer see just the empty field.
Kevin Costner (No Way Out, The Untouchables) stars as Ray Kinsella, an Iowa farmer living a simple life with his wife, Annie (Madigan, Winter Passing), and his precocious daughter, Karin (Hoffman, Sleepless in Seattle). One day, while out in the cornfields, Ray hears a voice telling him a simple message: "If you build it, he will come". He knows it seems crazy, but Ray still feels compelled to listen to the voice and make the vision he sees of a baseball field smack dab in the middle of his cornfield come true, cashing in all of his family's savings and crippling heir potential to turn a profit. After the diamond is built, a man appears in the center of it; "Shoeless" Joe Jackson (Liotta, Cop Land), one of eight White Sox players banned from baseball after being found guilty of throwing the games for money during the 1919 World Series. Soon, the rest of the banned players appear, and then a few more, although as they play all day, the bills for the Kinsella family keep piling up, to the point where they might lose the farm, the baseball field, and all of the dreams that might come with it. Meanwhile, the voices continue, and Ray must see this mad dream to its conclusion.
From a casting standpoint, Field of Dreams is top notch. This marks the second foray into the baseball genre for Kevin Costner, coming after the fan-favorite hit Bull Durham, and it proves to be another winner. Costner has that easygoing style that complements the game well, as well as the solitude of farm life -- it's hard to imagine someone else fitting better into the role. Casting an "everyman" as Kinsella is crucial, as we need to feel that he is sane enough to not think he is completely off his rocker when listening to the voice in his head, and then drive his family into the brink of bankruptcy. Veterans James Earl Jones (Conan the Barbarian, The Last Remake of Beau Geste) and Burt Lancaster (The Island of Dr. Moreau, From Here to Eternity), in his final big screen role, give some of their best screen performances in years, while the ensemble of baseball players is perfectly suited to the style and era that they belong to, respectively.
Phil Alden Robinson (All of Me, Rhinestone) takes an improbable book to adapt into a film, W.P. Kinsella's "Shoeless Joe", and actually makes the fantastic elements work, despite there not being much logic to any of it. Just as he would in Sneakers several years after, his style seems perfectly in synch with the contemplative nature of James Horner's (batteries not included, Aliens) score, bringing a quiet, emotional feel that softens us up to receive the heartfelt messages contained within the story. Robinson wisely changes the J.D. Salinger character of the book to the fictional Terrence Mann, avoiding the scrutiny that would certainly have been there among fanatics of Salinger's work, not to mention Salinger himself. Jones' Mann has become the archetype for how to play a crusty old recluse who would rather be left alone than be tapped for his perceived greatness (see Finding Forrester).
Conversely, Archibald "Moonlight" Graham was a real player whose pro baseball career was short-lived, later pursuing a career as a doctor,. His character is fictional otherwise. Though he often dreams of fulfilling his goal of getting a big hit as a ballplayer in the majors, it is touching to find that it is in his second calling, as a doctor, that he ultimately finds true value. Despite having a second chance in life, sometimes it is the road traveled, not the one we regret not taking, that proves to be the correct one.
Field of Dreams has aged well, with some of the cornier bits seeming not so out of place as it becomes more enveloped into the status of a classic film. Whatever contrivances that the fantasy elements necessitate are easily forgiven for the sake of the feeling of awe, nostalgia, and fanciful ideas. Just as baseball, old-time Americana, and the radical 1960s are things that many wax nostalgic about, so too is the film that extols these vaunted memories of America's past greatness itself.
Like those bygone days we fondly look back on, there is a sense of idealism to Field of Dreams that rarely exists anymore in Hollywood films. We don't reminisce about things just because they are old, but because they mean something to those who remember it. The film isn't about baseball so much as it is about holding on to, remembering, and cherishing, things that have value -- the things that meant something to your father, and his father before him.
©2007 Vince Leo