Written by: Phil Alden Robinson
Starring: Kevin Costner, Amy Madigan, James Earl Jones, Ray Liotta, Burt Lancaster
Rarely does life provide everyone with second chances and do-overs in the relationships we hold. When death strikes, all that could have been said to the loved one can never occur unless one believes in speaking to them in the afterlife. Field of Dreams presents this opportunity to a man who did not end things well with his father in a world of magical realism far too bogged down by reality to make it effective in the end.
Moving out to Iowa to tend to a corn farm, Ray (Kevin Costner) begins to hear a voice stating “If you build it, he will come.” This drives him to plow down some of his crops in order to put up a baseball field. At night, the spirits of some baseball players walk onto the diamond and with each new whisper, Ray puts his family at further financial risk by continuing to go down this road.
Beloved by many, especially those with father issues, Field of Dreams has entered the canon of essential American films as it covers the magic of America’s longtime pastime, baseball. It certainly hits the emotional points it seeks and explains what makes it so revered, however, it comes with an incredible flaw sitting right at the center serving as the spoiler. For me, it becomes difficult to connect to because this man essentially guarantees his family’s financial destitution in order to go on this personal journey that truly only benefits him.
I completely understand the magical realism on display here seeing as movies just do not get made as sincerely as this one anymore. A real villain does not even exist here, as it merely becomes about Ray rediscovering his love for the game, and more importantly, the connection with his father. The opening voice-over explains the relationship they had and how icy it got towards the end where they could not reconcile their differences before his death. Yes, everything seems hunky-dory except when it all comes to the expense of his family.
It gets made very clear once he puts together the baseball field that this entire experiment not only drained their savings but also drastically cut the potential profit they could get from owning the farmland. These financial woes become apparent in how perilous this could be for Ray and his family and despite some legitimate protests from his wife, Annie (Amy Madigan), she eventually drops it because she begins to witness some of the magic. For a film so worried about displaying the financial ramifications of this whole endeavor, it certainly does very little to reckon with it narratively. It further becomes an exercise of how much longer Ray can abandon his family to engage in a completely personal fulfillment project where he even leaves his family to go to Boston. Annie has to deal with the real world while Ray goes off and does whatever he wants as if he does not have a family at home depending on him.
The magic of the field brings back the 1919 White Sox team that meant the world to Ray’s father and while Shoeless Joe Jackson (Ray Liotta) appears, it just all feels ultimately meaningless until it reaches the end. Even then it feels like none of this was worth the stress and anguish it put his wife and child to the point where they believed they would be homeless. I would love to buy into the magical realism of this piece and how badly it wants to be endearing but the glaring lights of absurdity become far too apparent for me to ignore when this journey ultimately feels so self-centered.
Maybe it’s the cynic in me but it became difficult to take these deep conversations Ray held with characters like Terence Mann (James Earl Jones) when he just left his wife to deal with the real adult issues occurring with their family. It all gets made worse when the only tangentially villainous role lands on the lap of Annie’s brother Mark (Timothy Busfield). He attempts to encourage Ray and his sister to sell the farm before the bank decides to foreclose on it. It becomes a battle of attrition where Mark does everything he can to do right by his family members and he somehow gets treated as the bad guy in all of this. Essentially reality becomes the villain of the piece, which is certainly a choice.
Begrudging others for their love of this film is something I will never do, but despite multiple attempts, I have come to the conclusion that this film does not work for me. It becomes far too absurd to the point where it gets outright aggravating for me. The ultimate payoff in the end may make others cry but it just got a point where it just further shined a light on the selfishness of this entire story and how it just pulls every other character along or villainizes them for taking a reasonable stand.