“Field of Dreams” is an illogical story told logically. In a nutshell, the movie is about an ex-hippie turned farmer who one day hears a voice telling him “if you build it, he will come.” Confused by the cryptic message, Ray (Kevin Costner) builds a baseball field in the middle of his Iowa cornfield. After a while, Ray’s faith bears fruit, and the ghost of a baseball great name Shoeless Joe Jackson (Ray Liotta) appears out of the cornstalks. Soon, Ray’s baseball field is hosting a legion of ghosts that long to play baseball again.
If the above description frightens you, don’t let it. Phil Alden Robinson’s “Field of Dreams” isn’t about ghosts or the afterlife. Those are just tools used by Robinson to remind us of the universal truth that the regretful things we do or say in the past is sometimes not as important as the things we do or say in the present to make up for them.
Amy Madigan (“Streets of Fire”) co-stars as Anni, Ray’s understanding wife. An Iowa native, it is Anni who lures Ray back to Iowa to start a farm with her. And it’s Anni who keeps the farm afloat while the mysterious voice sends Ray to locate a reclusive writer name Terence Mann. James Earl Jones plays Mann, a famous writer who has become a cranky old man living a life of solitude until Ray knocks on his door and draws him back out into the world, rekindling his passion for life and his craft in the process.
“Field of Dreams” is deceptively easy to explain. A farmer builds a baseball field on a whim and the ghosts of old baseball players appear to play for the joy of it. But of course things are a lot more complicated than that, and none more so than Ray’s relationship with his deceased father. The two left on bad terms, and it’s Ray’s great regret that he was never able to mend fences with his father before the other man’s death. Now in his ’30s and with a family, Ray feels unfulfilled and feels that he’s not accomplished anything with his life.
At its heart, “Field of Dreams” is about living with regrets. Although the movie allows its characters to return to a time when they can resolve their regret, real life is, as we all know, trapped by space-time and reality. It’s this intimate core of “Dreams” that I believe makes it a much better movie than Robert Redford’s “The Natural”, also about baseball and the passing of time. Even though the other movie is much more accomplished in terms of aesthetics and construction, there’s no denying that Phil Alden Robinson’s movie has more heart.
For Kevin Costner (“Waterworld”), “Field of Dreams” remains a high point. His Ray is a mixture of transplanted city boy and wide-eyed midwestern innocence. And to be honest, you can’t get any more down home or American than Kevin Costner. The man just looks the part. “Dreams” is also highlighted by a strong supporting cast led by James Earl Jones as the retired writer. Jones brings such humanity and humor to the role that he’s a delight to behold every time he’s onscreen. As Ray’s faithful wife Anni, Amy Madigan sometimes stretches credulity with her faithfulness. Then again, this is a movie about ghosts that appear to play at a baseball field carved out of a cornfield, so who am I to talk about credulity?
“Field of Dreams” is a fantastical story told with a straight face. Phil Alden Robinson’s screenplay, just like his direction, is very straightforward and plain. And that is exactly what the movie calls for. The few special effects that appear are so minor that they don’t even matter. The fact is, “Dreams” plays out as such a straight narrative that after a while all the fantastical elements become of no concern and requires no further consideration.
If you were wondering, the answer is No, the film’s use of baseball as a vehicle is not incidental. America is baseball. From the sport’s young idealistic days, when players would play for free; to the emergence of corruption, marked by the Black Sox scandal; to the turbulent period of civil rights with the breaking down of the color barrier; and finally to its present state. Like America, baseball no longer represents what it used to, but things don’t have to stay that way.
Phil Alden Robinson (director) / Phil Alden Robinson (screenplay), W.P. Kinsella (book)
CAST: Kevin Costner …. Ray Kinsella
Amy Madigan …. Anni Kinsella
Gaby Hoffmann …. Karin Kinsella
Ray Liotta …. Shoeless Joe Jackson
Timothy Busfield …. Mark
James Earl Jones …. Terence Mann