by Robert Flaxman
It's almost hard to believe Field of Dreams is so popular. A movie about baseball and ghosts? It should have been in trouble from the start, right? Really, though, Field of Dreams is neither about baseball nor about ghosts. It's about the miracle of second chances, and the emotion it packs ranks it as one of the most powerful films ever made.It may not really be about ghosts, but Field of Dreams' premise still has to be taken on faith. Based on W.P. Kinsella's novel Shoeless Joe, it tells the story of Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner), an Iowa farmer who starts hearing voices in the fields. Well, one voice. And it tells him, for anyone who's managed never to come across this quote in the zeitgeist, "If you build it, he will come."
"If you film it, men will cry."
"It" turns out to be a baseball field, and "he" is Shoeless Joe Jackson, who was kicked out of baseball almost seventy years before. Jackson and the rest of the "Black Sox," the eight members of the Chicago White Sox who conspired to throw the 1919 World Series, get a second chance at baseball life on Ray's field.
They aren't the only ones affected by Ray's journey. There is also former radical writer Terence Mann, a J.D. Salinger surrogate (Kinsella used Salinger in his book, but the author threatened legal action if his name were used in the film) who dropped off the cultural radar screen almost twenty years before, and Archibald "Moonlight" Graham, a doctor and former ballplayer who played only one half-inning of one major league game.
I won't describe how they are affected because anyone who hasn't seen this film deserves to find out for themselves. There is real power in these journeys, however, just as there is in Ray's. The film has an incredible sense of atmosphere, with Phil Alden Robinson's direction, John Lindley's cinematography, and James Horner's mystical, magnificent score combining to give the proceedings a haunting, dreamlike quality. From Iowa to Boston to Minnesota, there is the distinct feeling that something bigger is going on.
What, exactly, is behind Ray's quest? The film is careful never to be explicit. It could be God, or maybe it's just Ray's conscience manifesting itself to help right past wrongs. Somehow, though, something is at work. Mann climbs into Ray's car while at the same time exclaiming, "I must be out of my mind!" The characters can feel themselves being transported on a journey they must complete. What they'll find at the end they don't know, but they are compelled to make the trip and find out.
The acting is marvelous. Kevin Costner hasn't done great work for some years now, but in 1989 he was at the top of his game. Amy Madigan turns in a strong supporting role as Ray's wife Annie, capable of being both realistic and supportive of Ray's bizarre vision. James Earl Jones, as Mann, is absolutely wonderful, and his speech near the film's end shows why, in spite of its obvious supernatural content, this is really a baseball film at heart. Also good in slightly smaller roles are Ray Liotta as the ethereal Jackson and Burt Lancaster as the old Doctor Graham.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Field of Dreams is its realism. Yes, a film in which dead baseball players walk out of a cornfield can be realistic. How easy would it have been, after all, for the film to simply ignore the fact that Ray plowing under his corn to build the field might have repercussions? Instead, a key plot concerns the Kinsella family's struggle to hold onto their farm, and the machinations of Ray's brother-in-law Mark, who is eager to buy them out. It adds some necessary tension to the film, and helps suggest what might be going on with the field, as Mark cannot see the ballplayers as Ray and others can. This plotline is paid off in a terrific scene near the film's end.
The film's message of second chances is heartfelt, and I'd go more into it here if it wouldn't ruin the film. The mysterious, supernatural plot really pays itself off in the last twenty minutes or so, though, and everyone deserves to see that fresh if they can. It's a beautiful, tremendously emotional finale, one that vindicates the film's need for both its characters and the audience to take some things on faith.Funny at times, and supremely touching at others, Field of Dreams is a great, moving film, a love letter to baseball and America. It's a film that has moved grown men to tears, and rightly so. The emotional surprise behind Field of Dreams is one that anyone can relate to, whether or not they like baseball. You don't need to follow the sport to get Field of Dreams, you just need to believe.
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originally posted: 10/12/04 10:32:13