From: Subject: Date: April 21, 2005 3:53:51 PM CDT Hankblog

Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Movie Retrospectives: Play Ball! Week
Field of Dreams

"If you build it, he will come."

Those are the cryptic words heard by Iowa farmer Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner) as he works in his cornfield one day very early in this film. What "it" is, he does not know. His wife Anni (the downright adorable Amy Madigan) can't figure it out either. She's a very understanding woman. She neither dismisses Ray's claims of hearing voices outright, nor does she try to encourage what could be a delusional fantasy. She just lets Ray plug along until he figures out what "it" is.

Eventually, Ray is granted a vision. "It" is a baseball field. As improbable as it may be, he knows inherently that he must plow up his corn and build a baseball field. And he also instinctively knows that this field must be built so that the ghost of Shoeless Joe Jackson (Ray Liotta), one of the 8 players banned for throwing the 1919 World Series, will have a place to play baseball again. And from this seemingly absurd premise springs forth one of the most enjoyable baseball films I know.

Ray eventually finds himself putting together a sort of metaphysical puzzle. He figures out that what he has been set out to do is more than just give Shoeless Joe a place to play again. He also knows that this puzzle has something to do with Terence Mann (James Earl Jones), one of the most influential American writers of the last half century. He learns that there is also some connection with an obscure former player named Archibald "Moonlight" Graham (played in different capacities by Burt Lancaster and Frank Whaley). Graham got into one major league game, but never got involved in a play. He's also been dead for sixteen years. And ultimately, Ray knows there is some part his late father plays in the grand scheme, perhaps allowing Ray to make up for regrets he has carried for several years.

Director Phil Alden Robertson recovered from penning the oddball comedy All of Me and the abysmal Rhinestone (for those who don't know, starring those thespian powerhouses Dolly Parton and Sylvester Stallone) to write and direct this moving drama about the national pastime. The screenplay was adapted from the novel Shoeless Joe by W.P. Kinsella. Kinsella has mined baseball for some really fascinating stories. I personally recommend reading The Iowa Baseball Confederacy after giving Shoeless Joe a read.

The novel takes a bit more philosophical and introspective turn than the film does. Told from Ray's perspective, the novel has something of an anti-establishment streak running through it. The fictional novelist Terence Mann from the film is replaced with real life novelist J.D. Salinger, who did in fact write a short story called "A Young Girl in 1941 With No Waist At All" that featured a character named Ray Kinsella. The reclusive Salinger objected vehemently to being a character in the novel, and threatened legal action if used in the movie.

The film focuses more on the ideas of dreams and regrets. History plays a large part in both, giving the characters in the film things to regret and the guidelines by which they may be able to make better choices in the future. In the end, Ray, Terence, and Joe all get a chance to make up for things they might have done differently in their lives. And Archie Graham shows us that sometimes the first choices we make are the smartest ones.

Understand, I can see where some might find this film to be melodramatic. There are some who may find the film to be burdened with a fair amount of schmaltz. But speaking for myself personally, I can not help but be moved by it every time I see it. I know several guys who would sooner gnaw off their own arm at the elbow than be caught dead crying at a movie, who will find themselves choked up watching this movie. It's just one of those "guy" movies where it's acceptable to be moved by it, I think (right up there with Old Yeller, I guess, though I've never seen Old Yeller). Regret is something we've all had to grapple with at one time or another. And there have been times in everyone's life when you have to say "Should I take the chance? Should I shoot for something bigger?"

In the end, this film reminds me a lot of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. I think that it shows that there are times when you really need to try and take a shot at the brass ring. The rewards are worth it, if the dreams are big enough.

Tomorrow: Pride of the Yankee or A League of Their Own, depending on which one I can rent. Will be late though, as I am playing softball tomorrow night.