1989 / Best Picture

Film #392: Field of Dreams (1989)

In my previous post I commented on how Patrick Swayze was one of the top box office draws in 1990 which made Ghost one of the highest-grossing movies of the year. But the man who remained a large draw over four consecutive years in the 1990s was Kevin Costner. Costner had gained most people’s attention after appearing as Elliot Ness in The Untouchables before following it up with a starring role in Bull Durham. But it was another baseball film, and Best Picture nominee, that would cement his place as one of cinema’s most recognisable stars.

That film was Field of Dreams in which Costner played Ray Kinsella, a farmer with a quirky family who begins to hear voices emanating from his cornfield. The film wasn’t one I’d seen before but had heard various things about it namely that it was a feelgood film that appealed to male sports fans in particular. As somebody who’s never particularly been a sports fan I was sceptical to the feelings this film provoked and it seems I was right to do this. The other famous attribute of the film is the line ‘if you build it he will come’ which convinces Ray to erect a baseball pitch next to his cornfield. Thanks to the fact that neither he nor his wife are particularly rational people they build the pitch to see what will happen. The film called for plenty of disbelief suspension as the ghost of disgraced baseball player ‘Shoeless’ Joe Jackson and various others started to play on the field. However director Phil Alden Robertson insinuated that the ghosts were only visible to open-minded folks due to the fact that Ray’s brother-in-law couldn’t see them when they were in plain sight. Despite risking financial ruin, Ray listneed to the voice once again as this time he was told to ‘Heal his Pain’. The pain he had to heal was that of author Terrence Mann, a voice of the 1960s who had since disappeared from popular culture. Mann was possibly the most interesting character in Field of Dreams as he had become an antisocial recluse refusing to see anybody who’d been inspired by his works. Mann and Ray’s road trip soon went into an entirely different direction as we learnt the story of player turned doctor ‘Moonlight’ Graham. I found the whole Graham subplot to be a bizarre diversion in the film’s narrative which then picked up when Ray returned home. Despite not enjoying a lot of what had gone before, I have to admit that I rather enjoyed the final scenes of the film in which Ray was reunited with his father for a game of catch. However I didn’t find this to be a particularly heartwarming scene and it didn’t bring a tear to my eye in the way that scenes similar to this have done.

Throughout Field of Dreams I tried to work out why Costner would become such a big Box Office draw over the next four years. The answer I came up with was that he had the clean cut looks of a classic movie star and chose projects that would suit his style. The role of Ray Kinsella sees Costner play to his strengths as a likeable man who is following his heart rather than his head. Costner admirably anchored the film but at the same time I didn’t think his performance was ever that enigmatic. Personally I thought the film’s best performance came courtesy of James Earl Jones who breathed life into the character of Terrence Mann. Jones portrayed Mann as a belligerent character who was once full of ideals but has since fallen into obscurity while also ably conveying the author’s change over the course of the film. The inclusion of Burt Lancaster as Doc Graham was an odd one as I don’t think a star of his calibre should have appeared in such a small role. As much as I love Lancaster I think he was misused here and I think he should’ve stuck with his instincts which initially led him to turn down the role. Although I wasn’t completely taken in by Field of Dreams’ narrative I did think it had a particularly distinctive style. The use of a real farm in Iowa added some realism to the piece and John Lindley’s stunning cinematography perfectly captured the exterior scenes. Furthermore Lindley tried his best to shoot the ghostly baseball players in a convincing way and was aided by James Horner’s enchanting score. In fact it was Horner’s score that stuck with me the most once I’d watched the film and that really says something about both the script and the performances. Whilst Field of Dreams wasn’t a bad little film I just wasn’t blown away by anything that happened in it and so don’t understand the impact that it has had on a lot of people.


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