ield 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
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.