'Field of Dreams': THR's 1989 Review

Photofest
James Earl Jones and Kevin Costner in 1989's 'Field of Dreams'
Many fans won't make it to the seventh-inning stretch; others will be back for extra innings.

On April 21, 1989, Universal unveiled Kevin Costner's baseball drama Field of Dreams in theaters. The Hollywood Reporter's original review is below.

As the movie baseball season continues in full swing, Universal's Field of Dreams, formerly Shoeless Joe, takes its turn at bat with Kevin Costner once again in the cleanup position. Based on Costner's all-star, behind-the-plate performance last summer in Bull Durham, look for a full grandstand of both men and women at Dreams' opening weekend.

Like Bull Durham, Field of Dreams isn't so much about baseball as about life. Like those beer commercials where opposing sides of the bleachers shout out in opposition, "More taste" / "Less filling," so too will viewers of this big-hearted pitch yell in disagreement. Many fans won't make it to the seventh-inning stretch; others will be back for extra innings. 

No matter what side of the plate you're hitting from, it's obvious that writer-director Phil Alden Robinson has a sure-gripped story arsenal of breaking stuff and slow floaters. Both good and bad for veteran moviegoers, it's possible to see the very seam on Robinson's narrative pitches — many of them delivered out of a straight-on Spielbergian windup, with a few off-speed '60s spitters for perspective.

In this fanciful and sunny story, Costner stars as a baby boomer of the '60s Berkeley variety. At 36, Costner finds himself married and a father; most surprisingly, he's bought a farm in Iowa and is raising corn. To the Boston-raised Costner, that's downright amazing, and, well, it triggers voices. While checking his husks, a message rings in his ears — "If you build it, he will come." It is not sunstroke.

Like most such exhortations, this one is gloriously impractical: Costner determines he is to build a baseball field amid his cornfield. Lights and all. It is an endeavor not looked upon charitably by his practical-minded neighbors or kinfolk. But his wife (Amy Madigan) is wondrously wise in a loosy-goosy sort of way. She encourages him, sensing, quite rightly, that the field's significance lies in the psychological benefit it will bring to her husband. 

Indeed, Costner is approaching, if not a life's crisis, at least a point of reckoning. In baseball parlance, he's reached second, and, for the first time, he's looking home. And looking home means looking backward, in Costner's case, to his youth and his uneasy relationship with his long-deceased father. Making contact, in a personal sense, can be done only through baseball —  the one thing the two agreed on.

Costner's primary delirium and enthusiasm is the hope that the eight members of the 1919 Black Sox (the eight men out) would be given another chance to play again. His father was a particular fan of "Shoeless Joe" Jackson, the big-hitting left fielder of those thumbed-out eight, and Costner, too, feels they should be given their life's chance. In essence, he is fearful of missing his own opportunity, deathly afraid of settling into a safe and unspontaneous existence like his father's.

In Costner, writer-director Robinson has found the perfect player for a personal-stakes game, a guy with a leg-it-out intensity and kidlike enthusiasm. It's Costner's eye-on-the-ball exuberance that carries Dreams past its often mechanical aesthetic paces.

Other performances, similarly, are for extra bases: Madigan, as his smart and plucky wife, is full of corn-fed bustle, while James Earl Jones is endearingly curmudgeonly as a burned-out-of-the-'60s writer. Burt Lancaster strokes a clean hit as a small-town doctor and former baseball star.

Technical contributions shine with the big-summer, Spielberg glow (soothing or scorching, depending on your vantage). Torpid skies, radiant inner lights and soothing hues characterize John Lindley's photography, while soothing majestic resonances rise throughout James Horner's score. — Duane Byrge, originally published on Apri 17, 1989.

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