Kevin Costner appears in several baseball movies, but “Field of Dreams” with James Earl Jones and Ray Liotta as Shoeless Joe Jackson is the one sports film which achieved both critical acclaim and became a huge box office success.
The legendary actor Burt Lancaster plays the role of Dr. Archie “Moonlight” Graham, which is also his final appearance in a motion picture before he passed away. “Field of Dreams” also stars James Earl Jones, Amy Madigan, and Ray Liotta as “Shoeless Joe Jackson.”
“Field of Dreams”, directed by Phil Alden Robinson, appeared in theaters thirty years ago. Robinson wrote the script that is based on the book “Shoeless Joe” by WP Kinsella. The film was shot on location in Iowa. The diamond that appeared in the film is still standing thirty years later.
Producers thought Kevin Costner would not want to do another baseball movie so close after the completion of “Bull Durham”, but Costner loved the script by Phil Alden Robinson. Costner often referred to it as his generation’s version of “It’s a Wonderful Life” by Frank Capra.
This film is often listed as a sports film, but it’s as much of a fantasy film than a traditional baseball movie. At its heart, “Field of Dreams” is a movie about the simple, yet complicated aspects of a relationship between fathers and sons.
Is This Heaven? No, It’s Iowa
Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner) is an ex-hippie-turned-farmer who lives with his wife (Amy Madigan) and daughter (Gaby Hoffmann). One day while surveying his corn fields, Ray hears a voice that tells him “If you build it, he will come.” He levels one of his cornfields to build a baseball diamond. One night, the ghost of Shoeless Joe Jackson pays him a visit and they shag fly balls together. Jackson asks Ray if his teammates can come play the next day and Ray agrees. His family watches the ghosts play, but one else can see them.
Ray and his wife have the same dream that involves Ray sitting at a baseball game in Fenway Park with reclusive author Terence Mann (James Earl Jones). Ray drives his hippie bus to Boston to seek out Mann, a former radical from the 1960s. At Fenway park, they receive a message to go find Moonlight Graham in Chisolm, Minnesota. Mann and Ray drive to Minnesota to discover that Dr. Archie “Moonlight” Graham, an aspiring major league ballplayer, gave up his baseball career to become a small-town doctor (Burt Lancaster). Ray and Mann pick up a younger version of Moonlight Graham (Frank Whaley) while hitchhiking on the side of the road. They drive him to Ray’s farm in Iowa, where he plays ball with Joe Jackson and other ghosts from the Black Sox.
Ray’s farm lost money that year because of his decision to build a baseball field. His brother-in-law (Timothy Busfield) wants him to sell his farm to his company until he finally sees the players and then tells him not to sell. The film ends with the ghosts inviting Terence Mann to see what heaven is like, while cars from miles around are flocking to Ray’s farm house to see the magical baseball players.
Baseball Has Marked the Time
James Earl Jones explains the desire for nostalgia and the willingness to relive childhood memories in his famous monologue about baseball as “the one constant through the years”. The country is constantly changing yet baseball remains the one common thread throughout history.
“People will come, Ray,” said Mann. “They’ll come to Iowa for reasons they can’t even fathom. They’ll turn into your driveway, not knowing for sure why they’re doing it. Arrive at your door, as innocent as children, longing for the past. And pass over the money without even thinking about it, for it is money they have and peace they lack. They’ll walk off to the bleachers and sit in their short sleeves on a perfect afternoon. And find they have reserved seats somewhere along the baselines where they sat when they were children and cheer their heroes. They’ll watch the game, and it’ll be as they’d dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick, they’ll have to brush them away from their faces. People will come, Ray. The one constant through all the years Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good, and that could be again. Oh people will come, Ray. People will most definitely come.”
The “people will come” speech is one of Jones’ finest moments in his wide oeuvre of roles in the theater and on film. appearances. Baseball fans memorized it word for word. It is one of those scenes that gives you goosebumps every time you see it.
60s Hippie Ideals vs. 80s Yuppies Sellout
While “Field of Dreams” is a fantasy film disguised as a sports movie, this film is also about the ideals of the 1960s staying prevalent at the height of 1980s consumer greed. The film takes place in Iowa and the cornfields in the heartland of America at the tail end of Ronald Reagan’s presidency and the final days of the Cold War.
Annie Kinsella is the embodiment of the free wheeling 1960s. She attended school in Northern California in the 1960s. She experienced the protest movement and became a part of counterculture. However, she still loved Iowa and returned home to raise a family with Ray. Annie flies her freak flag high during a community meeting to discuss the banning of books. The banned list includes titles from anti-establishment writer Terence Mann (Mann is a fictional author, but he is a cross between JD Salinger and James Baldwin).
During a powerful scene, Annie explains how one of the other mothers seeks to censor books because she never truly experienced the spirit of the 1960s.
“You have two 50s and went right into the 70s,” said Annie.
Another Baseball Movie About Shoeless Joe Jackson
Shoeless Joe Jackson became the focal point of multiple movies in the 1980s. Jackson is arguably the best player that should be included in the Hall of Fame. Jackson is banned for life due to his involvement with gamblers and fixing the 1919 World Series. Although Joe Jackson claims his innocence, he was implicated in the scandal and kicked out of baseball by Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis.
“Eight Men Out” by John Sayles is a period piece about the 1919 Chicago Black Sox cheating scandal. In “Eight Men Out”, DB Sweeney played an eccentric version of Shoeless Joe.
Ray Liotta, in his first major breakthrough role, portrays Shoeless Joe in “Field of Dreams”. Initially Ray thinks he must build the diamond in order to ease Jackson’s pain after his lifetime ban. However, it’s Jackson who ultimately tells Ray that the field will allow him to seek closure with his own father. Ray’s father, John, once played minor league ball before the Great Depression. They had an argument and never spoke again before his father died.
For other sports films, check out “High Flying Bird” by Steven Soderbergh and “Eight Men Out” by John Sayles.