Field of Dreams (1989)

6 Apr


Smith’s Verdict: ****

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

Baseball and the movies usually blend well together. With movies like “The Natural” and “Bull Durham,” among others, the love of the game is evident and well-portrayed. “Field of Dreams” is no exception—in fact, it’s a magical movie. It reminds us of why people love baseball and why it’s America’s pastime.

“Field of Dreams” is a fantasy. It features a man named Ray Kinsella (played by Kevin Costner), who, along with his wife Annie (Amy Madigan), has gone through the fast lane long enough and moved to Iowa to run a family farm. Ray and Annie have a young daughter (Gaby Hoffman) and they all enjoy sitting on the porch and enjoying the relaxation and quiet. But then, Ray begins to hear a mysterious voice in the cornfield. The voice is soft and personal and its instructions aren’t particularly clear—“If you build it, he will come.” Who’s he? What should Ray build?

Then, Ray begins to envision a baseball field in the place of his cornfield. Unsure of whether or not the voice came from his head after stressful work, Ray does the unthinkable and actually plows underneath the corn to build his own baseball diamond.

And what an image it is! To see a baseball diamond right there in your own backyard right next to a cornfield. It’s a wonderful, unforgettable image.

Then suddenly, onto the field walks the ghost of “Shoeless” Joe Jackson (Ray Liotta) of the 1919 Black Sox, who promised until the day he died that he would play the best he could. “Is this heaven,” he asks Ray. “No…it’s Iowa,” Ray responds. And then comes along the rest of the baseball team to come and redeem themselves by playing on the field.

There are problems, to be sure. The decision to keep the field on the farm may put Ray and his family into bankruptcy. And no one else besides Ray, Annie, and their daughter can see the dead baseball players practicing on the field, so a banker (played by Timothy Busfield) believes that they’re all going crazy. But Ray believes a miracle will occur, as the voice is heard again, telling Ray to travel east to meet a famous controversial writer for support, named Terence Mann (James Earl Jones). Terence doesn’t believe Ray’s story about the voice until he has his own experience.

I suppose that’s all I should say about the plot because as the movie progresses, it becomes more imaginative and thus more involving. Just the idea of having these baseball players from the past playing right there in your backyard is intriguing enough, but then the story gets deeper as it goes along with a character who never had a chance to play with the pros and a speech about how much baseball means to people. That speech is so heartwarming and so true, and strongly spoken by James Earl Jones late in the movie, that it exhibits the attitude that the movie is going for with the love of the game—innocence. These ballplayers aren’t merely at the field to impress anyone or prove something to themselves, but merely to continue to play the game they love. They’re stuck in a time when baseball was a game and not just an industry. That makes “Field of Dreams” not merely a great fantasy film, but an effective baseball movie.

The acting in “Field of Dreams” is first-rate. Kevin Costner makes a likable protagonist that you want good things to happen to, and he makes a good couple with Amy Madigan—they’re great together. Ray Liotta does a convincing job playing the legendary Shoeless Joe. James Earl Jones is phenomenally good as the writer who knows a thing or two about the National Pastime. And I can say the same for Burt Lancaster who portrays a character who deserves a second shot at the game as well, after he quit the game early to study medicine.

I won’t give away the ending to “Field of Dreams,” but let me tell you it doesn’t end with a “big game” climax. It’s an ending in which the themes like family values, redemption, reunion, and innocence all come together with the promise of something better to come in the future.

It’s hard to describe how good “Field of Dreams” really is. It’s a wonderful fantasy film about following your dreams and it’s also effective in how it handles baseball and captures the love of the game. It’s a positive movie too—this is not for cynics or disbelievers. The tone and spirit of the movie is modest, but not making the story too sweet that we can’t get invested in it. “Field of Dreams” entertained me, intrigued me, and in the end, it moved me.

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