“The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time.” — Terence Mann
I have always been a fan of baseball. I would say that baseball has been the one thing which has always remained constant for me throughout the years. Other sports may be flashier, faster and more violent, but baseball I’ve always equated as part of America’s national identity. This is why 1989′s Field Of Dreams by Phil Alden Robinson continues to resonate for me and for legions of baseball fans everywhere.
The film is based off of the W.P. Kinsella’s novel, Shoeless Joe, and tells the story of one Ray Kinsella and his titular field of dreams. It’s a film which sees Ray not just building a baseball field in his field of corn despite financial problems bringing him and his family closer to losing everything, but it also sees him traveling across the country to find a reclusive writer in Terence Mann (J.D. Salinger in the novel). It’s afilm which offers an insight to what makes baseball and the American identity so intertwined as the film finally offers Ray a chance to finally realize that the very baseball field he has built in his cornfield has granted many a second chance to realize their dream. For this film that dream is to be able to play baseball once more and this second chance becomes important to the ghosts of baseball’s past who have fallen from baseball’s grace through a scandal which had them banned from the game they love.
I’ve never been a big Kevin Costner fan, but his work in this film as Ray Kinsella showed me why people saw in him talent as an actor and not just a pretty face up on the screen. His real-life love for baseball shows in his performance as Ray whose own love for baseball becomes a personal journey for redemption and reunion with a father who also shared his love for the sport. The performances by Amy Madigan as Ray’s supportive wife was quite good and allowed the character not to be eclipsed by Costner’s excellent work as Ray. Even James Earl Jones as the writer Terence Mann gives the film a level of gravitas which just added to the film’s intimate yet epic nature. But it’s the breakout performance by Ray Liotta as the ghost of baseball great Shoeless Joe Jackson. Liotta’s screentime was limited to mostly in the latter part of the film, but his presence dominated every moment he was on the screen.
Field of Dreams has been called just a good baseball film by some, but for many people who have seen and loved it see it as more than just a film about baseball. It’s a film that shows Americana at it’s best and most nostalgic. Shows how one sport has become such a positive influence on the relationship between children and their fathers. It’s a film that dares to show genuine affection and love to the idea of letting someone follow their dream despite many outside influences and obstacles trying to get in their way. There’s a reason the film was nominated for an Oscar Best Picture. Even voters who are so used to rewarding films that look at the darker and more depressing side of the human condition could see the inherent quality in a film which looks at the brighter and more hopeful side of the equation.