Ray Liotta and Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams.
This may just be the quintessential sports movie. It is also a fantasy film that takes the viewer on a wonderful journey and keeps you guessing as to what will happen next. I know this is one of my brother Eric's favorite movies and to be honest I am quite surprised that he has yet to review it.
Kevin Costner stars as Ray Kinsella. The movie begins with Ray's voice-over narration and a brief montage of his father's life and his childhood, up to his father's death and his marriage. We then jump ahead to the late 1980's. Ray and his wife (Amy Madigan) have just bought a farm in Iowa. They have a young daughter. One evening out in the middle of his corn field Ray hears a mystical voice. It says, “If you build it, he will come.” Right away you know that this is not going to be an ordinary sports movie.
After a few times of hearing the voice repeat its message, Ray sees a vision of a baseball diamond in the middle of his corn acreage. He convinces his wife and then plows up a large portion of his corn and builds the baseball field. All of this happens within the first 15 minutes of the movie. This is such an intriguing set-up that at first it doesn't seem like the balance of the movie can live up to this exquisitely original premise. The beauty of Field of Dreams is that it does.
The story keeps getting richer and more compelling as the movie goes along.
I won't delve much deeper into the plot specifics as I am sure Eric will want to review this movie soon and I will leave him some points to add. Instead I will write about the cast. Costner is perfect in the role. He is a bland everyman caught up in otherworldly events. His reactions to the miraculous happenings are believable and anchor the story. Madigan is also very good. She provides some laughs and is more than just the understanding wife, she has a real personality and is especially good in the book banning scene. James Earl Jones and Burt Lancaster (in his final big screen appearance) bring their immense stature to the movie. If Ray is serving a penance, the characters played by these two legends are being given their rewards.
Art movies about serious topics are usually critic's darlings, but in my humble opinion it is the basic stories that wear their emotions out on their sleeves for all to see and that connect with the simple humanity in all of us that will stand the test of time. Like It's a Wonderful Life, Field of Dreams is an American fable and takes its place in that revered pantheon of classic Hollywood movies.
Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams.
One of the things that I love about this movie is the way that it never even tries to explain itself. Where these baseball players came from or how they got there is left a mystery. Are they angels? Is this a shared Acid flashback amongst the characters? It's up to you to decide.
Another great thing is that although the subject matter is treated with great reverence, it also isn't above including some very funny moments. The best line in the movie is when Ray goes to Terrence's house and finds him uncooperative, proclaiming that Ray is a leftover from the sixties. Ray tells him, "You've changed - you know that?" and Terrence responds, "Yes - I suppose I have! How about this: 'Peace, love, dope'? Now get the hell out of here!"
In some ways this movie is a contradiction. Ray and his wife proudly proclaim themselves to be freethinking children of the sixties and yet the heart of the story revolves around the tradition and innocence of Baseball as summed up by the eloquent speech given by Terrence near the end of the film. It's a speech that in the hands of someone else might sound corny or stupid, but in that deep sonorous voice of James Earl Jones, it will give you shivers. "...they'll walk out to the bleachers; sit in shirtsleeves on a perfect afternoon. They'll find they have reserved seats somewhere along one of the baselines, where they sat when they were children and cheered their heroes. And they'll watch the game and it'll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick they'll have to brush them away from their faces. People will come Ray. The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it's a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good and could be again."
I don't think that I would call this the quintessential sports movie since really it's about so much more than just baseball, but it is a helluva good movie.
James Earl Jones and Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams.
The very essence of Field of Dreams is nostalgia. Not only is there the old time baseball players but Ray and Annie think back on their youth many times. Terence, Shoeless Joe and Dr. Graham each add their fond remembrances as well. In the speech, that Jones gives near the end, he says that “...baseball has marked the time.” At least it has for the last hundred years.
Using baseball as a metaphor for youth and innocence, Field of Dreams takes Ray on a journey to help those who never felt whole in their lives. The intellectual Terrence, lost faith in man kind and wants to know more about the meaning of life. Dr. Graham wants to know what could have been. Shoeless Joe missed playing baseball. Ray wants to apologize to his father. Regret dwells in the back of all of these men's mind. Through the baseball field, they are each allowed to deal with that moment they wish they could do over.
I have often sat through many movies where my wife has gotten caught up in some emotional scene that does nothing for me. Field of Dreams provides a scene that gets to me every time, that my wife never gets. When Ray asks his dad, “You wanna have a catch,” (It's play catch Kevin. “Play” not “have”) I get choked up. It is a brief scene, emotional scenes between father and adult son are rare in movies, and any guy can relate to it. I often play catch with one of my sons in our backyard. It is our bond. We keep track of imaginary outs and scores. I don't want to even think of the day when he outgrows playing catch with me.
On a lighter note, as both my brothers mentioned, Field of Dreams has some of the most memorable dialogue from any movie. “Is this heaven?” “No, it's Iowa.” My favorite funny line is, “Ty Cobb wanted to play, but none of us could stand the son-of-a-bitch when we were alive, so we told him to stick it!” The most poignant line is, “You know, we just don't recognize the most significant moments of our lives while they're happening.”
On paper, a movie about baseball playing ghosts in an Iowa cornfield, should not have worked. Kudos to the studio executive that was brave enough to give this movie the go ahead. It could have so easily been a sappy mess but, for whatever reason, everything came together and the movie works. Field of Dreams is a classic!
Photos © Copyright Universal Pictures (1989)