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Film Critic for Twin Cities Live

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Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Movie Rewind: FIELD OF DREAMS (1989)

Director: Phil Alden Robinson
Starring: Kevin Costner, Amy Madigan, Gaby Hoffmann, Ray Liotta, James Earl Jones, Timothy Busfield, Burt Lancaster, Frank Whaley

In honor of baseball season, I wanted to look back at one of my favorite baseball movies. I asked my Facebook and Twitter followers for their opinions on this topic and A League of Their Own, The Sandlot, and Field of Dreams were, by far, the most common titles given. As much as I love those first two films, I feel like I have watched them quite frequently as they always seem to be airing on ABC Family or some other cable network. It has been many years since I last saw Kevin Costner build a baseball diamond in a corn field, so I thought Field of Dreams would be the perfect choice to revisit as its central message seems very relevant in my personal life right now. Plus, the film is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year.

Baseball has always been an important part of Ray Kinsella’s (Costner) life. Many of the memories of his dad all center on that American pastime. Ray’s father had idolized Shoeless Joe Jackson (Liotta), who was suspended from the game after the baseball league blamed him and seven of his fellow players of intentionally throwing the 1919 White Sox World Series game for money. At the age of 36, Ray, his wife Annie (Madigan), and their daughter Karin (Hoffman), move to a farm in a small Iowa town. One day while out in the corn fields, Ray hears a mysterious voice whispering, “If you build it, he will come.” He had heard an urban legend about hearing voices in the cornfield, but Annie and the locals think he’s a bit crazy.

This phrase permeates in his head until he believes he solves the mystery of what he is supposed to build and for whom. He believes the voice is telling him to build a baseball diamond for Shoeless Joe and his teammates so they can return to the game. Ray is scared of turning into his father who never did anything daring, never fulfilled a dream, or carried out some spontaneous mission. He explains this all to Annie over a bedtime heart to heart talk. While the idea to build a baseball diamond to host some dead ball players is a bit far fetched, she fully supports him. Ray cuts down a huge portion of the corn crops and builds a full-scale field with lights, white chalk outlining the bases, and a few wooden bleachers. Months pass until the night when Shoeless Joe finally arrives. His entrance onto the field marks the beginning of a longer journey Ray finds himself on as he lives out his mission in life, which also includes a reclusive author (Jones) and the influence baseball has on so many individuals.

The film is written and directed by Phil Alden Robinson (Sneakers, The Sum of All Fears) based off the book Shoeless Joe by W.P. Kinsella. The title of the film was originally the same as the book, but test audiences reacted poorly to it, so it was changed to Field of Dreams. Terrence Mann is a fictionalized version of J.D. Salinger, whose real name was used in the book. Since Salinger disapproved of the use of his persona, the character’s name was changed for the movie. I have never read the book, but it seems to be one of those cases where the movie will be remembered more than its original source material. It has a terrific cast led by Kevin Costner. Amy Madigan is a funny spitfire as his wife. Ray Liotta has some beautiful moments with Costner when he first appears as Shoeless Joe Jackson. Their first moments are dialogue-free while Shoeless Joe is reunited with his love of baseball. The film also marks the last major screen role of the legendary Burt Lancaster as Doc “Moonlight” Graham, who played one single game of professional baseball as a young man and never had had a chance to go back to the game.

Field of Dreams went on to be nominated for three Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Score for James Horner (Titanic). The film is listed as #28 on the American Film Institute’s 100 Years 100 Cheers list and the classic line, “If you build it, he will come” landed the #39 spot on the 100 Years 100 Movie Quotes list. The film was shot near Dyersville, Iowa, and the owners of the farm kept the field intact and turned it into a tourist attraction, which is visited by thousands of people every year.

It is easy to think about the movie as a great baseball movie. There is something sentimental about the good old days of baseball where the players all played due to their love of the game and their fans. It wasn’t about endorsement deals or signing with whatever team paid the most. Instead of scandals about performance enhancing drugs, you get a glimpse into the real-life 1919 Black Sox Scandal, which naturally led to more research after watching the movie again. While it involved the 1919 World Series between the Chicago White Sox and Cincinnati Reds, those eight players were referred to as the “Black Sox” due to their potential involvement in the conspiracy to lose the game in order to win money from gamblers. The film also features the theme that the good old American past time of baseball is passed on generation after generation. “The one constant through all the years, Ray, is baseball”, says Doc “Moonlight” Graham.

While I enjoy the game of baseball and have fun sitting through nine innings of the Minnesota Twins, I don’t think I would say I have a passion or deep knowledge of the game and its history. What draws me to this movie and tugs at the heartstrings after this particular viewing is the concept that you are never too old to stop dreaming or carry out one last wish in life. I am, by no means, old, but this idea has been floating around in my head lately. Ray Kinsella meets people throughout the film who are of different ages, backgrounds, and walks of life and he encourages them to fulfill that last wish or dream they have yet to pursue. I wrote a piece for my work department newsletter about how you are never too old to stop dreaming or live out your passion in life. While many people, like me, would never claim their “day job” as their passion, I think many people get stuck in their daily routine as it pays the bills. For me, it is my passion for acting and movies that keep me going in life. Being an actor is a hard can be frustrating, but no matter how many auditions I have gone to where I get rejected, I keep going back. I keep trying because when I get to perform, I love it. The same goes for writing about the movies I see. I feel a drive and energy whenever I talk about movies to my friends and family. Someone may disagree with my perspective, but I don’t let that stop the conversation because part of my joy is learning the different reactions people have to the same experience. Some may see Field of Dreams as just some wholesome baseball film. I see it for the deeper message about carrying out that dream you have in life no matter how you old happen to be. I think this message is why it has had a lasting impact and why moviegoers continue to re-watch it year after year.

Is it worth your trip to the movies? It continues to inspire moviegoers year after year and seems personally relevant in my life as the film really teaches you that no matter where you are at in life, it is never too late to pursue a dream, be spontaneous, and live out one of your passions in life.

RATING: 4.5 out of 5 Ticket Stubs

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