Tuesday, 14 July 2020

Coronacinema - Field of Dreams

Field of Dreams (1989)

Starring: Kevin Costner, Burt Lancaster, Ray Liotta, James Earl Jones, Amy Madigan

Director: Phil Alden Robinson

Available on: Netflix

There is no shortage of cinematic paeans to baseball, a peculiarly American sport marked by contests that are too long and too numerous. That said, few are as imaginative or poetic as Phil Alden Robinson's Field of Dreams, an exquisitely realised adaptation of W.P. Kinsella's 1982 novel, Shoeless Joe. 

A melange of fantasy, sporting and dramatic tropes, Field of Dreams conjures an elegantly nostalgic tale of lives and hopes lost and found. In drawing on elements of the culture war, the seminal impact of the sixties on American society and mankind's unfulfilled yearning to re-write the past, this towering picture delivers a profoundly affecting emotional experience.

Kevin Costner plays New York native Ray Kinsella, a neophyte farmer who, while surveying his harvest one evening, hears an ethereal command whispering through the Iowa corn: "If you build it, he will come." 

Naturally, Kinsella concludes that the instruction can only be fulfilled by ploughing a chunk out of his field to build a baseball diamond, thus enabling the ghost of his dad's sporting hero, legendary Chicago White Sox outfielder "Shoeless" Joe Jackson, to play out eternity in the serene surroundings of this Midwestern Shangri-La. Jackson was a tragic and conflicted figure who, along with seven teammates, received a lifetime ban from the sport after accepting money to throw the 1919 World Series.

Kinsella's hunch proves correct — Jackson (a typically edgy Ray Liotta) and his condemned colleagues find their way to Iowa. However, further mysterious commands upend Kinsella's sense of accomplishment, compelling him to seek out reclusive writer, and erstwhile social justice warrior, Terence Mann (James Earl Jones), someone he believes to be in need of salvation. In doing so, he leaves sparky wife Annie (Amy Madigan) to stave off her brother Mark's (Timothy Busfield) attempts to buy the debt mounting against their property and sell it out from under them.

Field of Dreams's middle portion sees Kinsella undertake an extended cross-country odyssey set to a playlist of throwback rock and roll. This quest is ably assisted by Mann and the doughty duo encounter Burt Lancaster's old ball player along the way, his respectable beat an elegiac trove of regal Americana. 

And, yet, this is no road movie in the strictest sense. The Kinsella farm, a confluence of strangely compatible puzzle pieces — swaying crops and humble sporting arena  is the film's home plate. Robinson downplays the fantastical nature of it all with an unfussy approach that allows the magic to speak for itself. Jackson and friends emerge from the corn, like pilgrims in the New World, their laddish jostling and muscular, old-fashioned jocularity a thing of wonder to those surveying them from the modest pinewood bleachers. The director colours it with an endless azure sky that gives way to a golden dusk, descending like a warm blanket. 

In the lead, a scruffy, likeable Costner excels as the faithful hero. Goofy and self-effacing in equal measures, he carries an air of indefatigable childlike innocence that sustains even as he battles the spectre of a ruptured relationship with his dead father. Given Costner's gruff latter-years turn, this performance is as charming as it is amusing. The dynamic constructed with Madigan oozes mutual affection, their Berkley-infused shorthand and beatnik sensibilities bridling in conservative, book-banning flyover country. 

Meanwhile, Mann, replacing the source material's J.D. Salinger, serves as the narrative conscience. Armed with Jones's proud bearing and oaken tones, Mann, the old revolutionary, is a worthy chronicler of the universal American story. He perceives that not everything must change: baseball, aged of spirit and resistant to upheaval, is a crucial tether to the past in a country prone to rapid and mercurial transformations. 

A beautifully staged finale suggests that in its rawest, purest form, sport is something that binds us together, even as the shape and meaning of life twist with the coils of time's memory. 

1 comment:

  1. Appropriate credit is given to the often undervalued Kevin Costner, who drives the narrative of Phil Alden Robinson's heart-warming adaptation of W.P. Kinsella's 1982 novel Shoeless Joe. The review endorses the view that you don't have to be a baseball fan - or, indeed, know anything about the sport - to be charmed and moved by its power to create ties that bind.