Field of Dreams (1989)
Sorry to all you Major League fans out there, but this here is the best baseball movie ever made.
Field of Dreams is about a life-long baseball fan/corn husker in Iowa with the perfect wife and the cutest damn daughter on the planet who, much to his dismay, sees himself settling into his estranged father’s footsteps with each new comfortable year. Then one day a mysterious voice tells him to build a baseball field, and since he’s now Mr. Spontaneity, he up and does it at the potential cost of losing his farm and livelihood. And whaddaya know, the ghosts of “Shoeless” Joe Jackson and the seven other disgraced members of the 1919 Chicago White Sox team walk onto the field, start scrimmaging with other dead ballplayers and continue to whisper sweet nothings to this unlikely farmer that sends him across the country to ease pains and go the distance.
Yeah, I’ll admit it, this movie is somewhat all over the place and probably sounds somewhat stupid on paper to the uninitiated. It’s fantasy, it’s sports, it’s a fathers-and-sons story, and while all those things don’t usually turn up in the same two-hour span, it’s a magical mix if there ever was one that does a flat-out marvelous job of not crashing and burning (which it totally could have).
Tough to describe why it all works so well, but an outstanding cast and a stellar script sure help for starters.
Well, first there’s the living crapshoot that is Kevin Costner, and lucky for him, his turn as Ray Kinsella is definitely one of the brighter moments in his pre-Postman career. I love that he’s given all these self-aware lines like “That is so cool,” with a wide grin plastered on his face as he watches the Sox disappear into the cornfield for the umpteenth time, and Costner simply does a solid job of playing the everyman. Kinsella’s a great character and it’s great watching him turn into this messenger of sorts as he slowly pieces everything together and just goes for it anyway even when he’s clueless.
Amy Madigan (who I’ve never seen anywhere else) is so, so awesome as Kinsella’s outrageously supportive wife, Annie; and Gaby Hoffmann really is the cutest damn daughter on the planet, Karin. But as good as these three are, the undisuted heavyweights are James Earl Jones as reclusive ex-revolutionary, Terence Mann, and Burt Lancaster as Archie “Moonlight” Graham who played one inning in the Majors and gave it all up for a distinguished career in medicine.
Impossible for me to choose which of these two I like more ’cause Mann and Graham are equally memorable for all the same reasons. Man, even if 98% of this movie had been cut out and all that remained was James Earl Jones’ speech about how “The one constant through all the years…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. This field, this game: it’s a part of our past. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again,” it would probably still be standing at a perfect 10. Can’t imagine any fan putting the sport into better perspective than that and he’s also got some hilarious lines about being pariahed for his writings or being held up with an index finger to boot. No idea why Jones doesn’t do more movies, no one delivers it home like Jones.
And on top of that epic soliloquy is Graham’s response when Kinsella tells him what a tragedy it would be to pass up the chance to fulfil his life-long wish of going up to bat: “Son, if I’d only gotten to be a doctor for five minutes… now that would have been a tragedy.”
Damn. Burt Lancaster. Dude’s a legend for a reason.
But I don’t know. These days, I consider myself lucky to pull myself away from the damn computer screen and go outside with my old mitt, but when I was growing up, baseball was very much my thing. I was one of those kids whose parents suffered aneurysms trying to coordinate carpools that would get me to three different sports all on the same day, and while I loved my days as a soccer goalie and still daydream once in a while about my best day on the basketball court, none if it held a candle to baseball. I worked my way up from Tee Ball in Grade School, upgraded to a pitcher once I got to Middle School, then missed a good deal of my first season in High School because my coach was an a-hole, ’cause I went on vacation to Japan for three weeks and missed my first four games, and ’cause the ratio between fun and competitive started leaning so far towards the latter that the former was getting awfully hard to notice. Anyway, that was my last season on the mound, and even though I still get bored to tears watching regular seasons games on TV, every time Spring rolls around, every time I run those seams across my fingertips while playing catch with my eight-year-old brother, every time I watch this movie, it’s heartbreaking how much I miss the game.
And that’s why Field of Dreams is the best baseball movie of all-time: it’s about why baseball matters, why it’s always mattered and why it will continue to matter even if the game is more about money now than ever. It doesn’t matter if you’ve played in The Big Leagues or still can’t figure out whether you’re a righty or lefty, there’s not a single past-time on the planet that can match the nostalgic or emotional weight of having a catch with your dad or playing nine innings. The smell of the grass, that perfect clap the ball makes when it hits the palm of your glove, just that simple pleasure of throwing a ball back-and-forth for hours on end is something that you can’t get anywhere else. It’s the memories, it’s the experience, and it’s no wonder that kids resent the old men who never gave them the opportunity.
Forgive me for turning this into a mini-memoir of sorts, but I forgot until recently how much I loved this thing and how effing phenomel it is despite the God-awful poster. There aren’t a whole lot of movies out there that can break me down to a bawling mess for 45 minutes straight like this did, and while that kind of emotional connection is something I rarely experience with a movie, that’s not even half of why Field of Dreams earned the verdict I gave it. So funny, so genuine, so well-written and so well-executed to a degree that no other baseball movie can match. Can’t say enough about this American gem, but I guess this’ll have to do.
Now dust off that glove and get the hell outside already.