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Field of Dreams (1989)

This is one of the finest movies ever made. Notice that I did not say that it is one of the finest baseball movies ever made. It is the best baseball movie ever made.

Having said that, Field of Dreams is NOT really a baseball movie.

What? Not a baseball movie?

Oh, sure, there are baseball scenes in it, but the film uses baseball as a device; the primary theme is dreams—dreaming dreams, living dreams, having dreams shattered, picking up the pieces of your dreams, and getting a second chance at fulfilling lost dreams. The secondary theme of the movie is relationships—between husbands and wives, fathers and daughters, between neighbors, but mostly between fathers and sons.

Written and directed by Phil Alden Robinson, the movie is beautifully filmed, set in the great farm state of Iowa. The scenery is perfect. The cast is absolutely solid. Kevin Costner is extremely well suited to play the role of Ray Kinsella, a dreamer and baseball fan. The film expects you to suspend your beliefs that people can return to earth after they have died, and Kev does a great job of helping the movie viewer do just that (since he can hardly believe it himself). Amy Madigan is perfect as Ray's wife, the former hippie, Annie. She allows Ray to live his dream even while all may soon be lost. Gaby Hoffman adorably portrays the Kinsellas' daughter, Karin. James Earl Jones plays the reclusive writer, Terence Mann, in one of his best performances. The remarkable Burt Lancaster is Doc Graham. Frank Whaley plays the younger Doc, Archibald "Moonlight" Graham. Ray Liotta brings a quiet intensity to his Shoeless Joe Jackson character, but if I had one minor casting criticism, it would be this: Joe Jackson was a Southerner and a lefty; Ray Liotta is neither.

What makes this a great movie is the dialogue, the pace of the movie, the music, and the mixture of comedy, seriousness, and pathos, without being maudlin or over the top. At times the serious lines are immediately countered with a smart remark, generally delivered by Annie or Terence Mann.

The Voice

"If you build it, he will come."

"Ease his pain."

"Go the distance."


Shoeless Joe: "Man, I loved this game. Did you ever hold a ball or glove to your face? I'd have played for nothing."

Ray: "Ty Cobb used to say about his glove, 'it's where triples go to die.'"

Doc Graham: "That's what I wish for. A chance to squint at a sky so blue that it'd hurt your eyes just to look at it. To feel the tingle in your arms as you connect with the ball. To run the bases, stretch a double into a triple and flop face first into third, wrap your arms around the bag. That's my wish."

Shoeless Joe: "Ty Cobb wanted to play, but none of us could stand the sonofabitch when we were alive, so we told him to stick it!"

Terence Mann: "The one constant through all the years has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It's been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game is a part of our past. It reminds us of all that once was good. And could be again."

Shattered Dreams

Terence Mann: "I spent all my misery years ago. I have no more pain left for any of you."

Terence Mann: "I wish I had your passion, Ray. Misdirected though it may be, it is still a passion. I used to feel that way about things, but..."

Doc Graham: "It was like coming this close to your dreams, then watch them brush past you like a stranger in a crowd. At the time you don't think much of it. You know, we just don't recognize the most significant moments of our lives while they're happening. I thought there'd be other days. I didn't realize that was the only day."

Ray's Father

Ray: "I'm scared to death I'm turning into my father. The man never did one spontaneous thing in all the years I knew him. I never forgave him for getting old—by the time he was as old as I am now, he was ancient. He must have had dreams; he just never did anything about them."

Ray: "My dad used to say, 'nobody could hit like Shoeless Joe.'"
Annie: "I think that's the first time I've ever seen you smile when you mentioned your father."

Annie: "I understand your need to prove to yourself and to the world that you are not turning into your father, but you've done it. You believed in the magic, it happened, isn't that enough?"

Terence Mann: "Whatever happened to your father?"
Ray: "He never made it as a ballplayer, so he tried to get his son to make it for him...After a while I wanted to come home, but I didn't know how. I made it back for the funeral, though."

Shoeless Joe: "If you build it, he will come."
Ray: "Oh my God. It's my father. Ease his pain. Go the distance. My God. I'd only seen him years later when he was worn down by life. Look at him. He's got his whole life in front of him and I'm not even a glint in his eye. What do I say to him?"
Annie: "Why don't you introduce him to his granddaughter?"

John: "It's so beautiful here. For me, it's like a dream come true. Can I ask you something? Is this heaven?"
Ray: "It's Iowa."
John: "Iowa. I could've sworn it was heaven."
Ray: "Is there a heaven?"
John: "Oh, yeah. It's the place dreams come true."
Ray: "Maybe this is heaven."

Ray: "Hey, Dad. You wanna have a catch?"
John: "I'd like that."

So, just like that the movie ends. The infamous 1919 Black Sox are playing baseball again. An African-American, who did not have the chance to do so in the '40s, realizes his personal dream of playing major league baseball. And father and son engage in a simple game of catch, while Annie and Karin look on.

In the end, the movie is really about forgiveness and redemption. And it gives one pause—a pause to reflect on our own lives and our own perceived failed dreams. To realize that time heals all wounds. And most importantly, to appreciate our own Field of Dreams—wherever that may be.

My rating: A towering blast with the bases loaded. GRAND SLAM!

Review by Tom Tilert