Baseball

On second review, "Field of Dreams" is a ridiculously bad movie

March 29, 2018

This article's headline is misleading, for I didn't take a second review of "Field of Dreams." In truth, I've watched the film close to 40 times in my life. It was one of my favorite movies as a child, and when I covered Major League Baseball for six seasons, I made a viewing a rite of winter before Spring Training commenced. That tradition fell to the wayside a few years back, yet was rekindled when I recently came across this tale of America's Pastime on Netflix in the late hours of the night. I grabbed a couple of beers and dug into the couch, ready for the film to wash over me like old times.

Unfortunately, I needed a cold shower when it was done. Because I had been missing an incontrovertible truth all these years: "Field of Dreams" is a shitty movie.

Before you begin pontificating on the film's significance to fathers and sons or regurgitate James Earl Jones, "People will come Ray" speech, "Field of Dreams" certainly has heart and soul (albeit a mawkish one). The cinematography is absurdly good, as is most of the dialogue and soundtrack (both of which were nominated for Oscars). And though he has zero of the serenity, wit and cool of his "Bull Durham" Crash Davis character, Kevin Costner is a strong lead.

But this is where the compliments end. What follows is a list of grievances with the film, in no particular order:

-- Love me some "Goodfellas," but Ray Liotta is trash as "Shoeless" Joe Jackson. For one, Jackson was from South Carolina, not that you would know from Liotta's New York accident. There's also the matter that Jackson was a left-handed batter; Liotta takes his hacks as a righty. Liotta also plays the character with a somber, overly serious demeanor at all times. Dude, you get to play ball again. Lighten the hell up.

-- The film's big emotional payoff—Ray getting a chance to have a toss with his father, a former minor-league catcher—is immediately deflated upon the realization the actor playing Ray's dad has never thrown a baseball before...

No wonder the cat never made it to the bigs.

-- One of the film's major storylines—Moonlight Graham finally getting an at bat—is rendered moot because young Moonlight gets a sacrifice in his second chance. For those not up on their baseball acumen, a sac fly does not count in the box score as an official at bat. So congrats, guys. You drug a guy back from the dead only to deny him his dream in the afterlife.

-- The bank, Ray's wife and his brother-in-law act like the baseball field is taking up so much land that the farm cannot make a profit. I say this with authority as a Midwesterner: no freaking way. A regulation baseball diamond requires 2.5 to 3 acres; most farm properties boast over 200 acres able to be cultivated. The idea that 3 unused acres would kill a farm's yield is the epitome of Hollywood ignorance.

-- James Earl Jones' acting. The man has a set of pipes, we'll give him that. But throughout his screen time, Jones' performance could best be described as "The check cleared? Well f@&% it, roll tape." Almost as if he didn't understand the premise and thus unsure how to commit. "Grouchy old guy with the heart of gold," is not a particularly daunting role, but somehow Jones missed the mark.

-- Speaking of Jones, he plays a former Civil Rights activist in the film. At what point does he turn to Ray and Shoeless Joe and ask, "Where are the Negro League players?" I'm guessing that part got left on the cutting room floor.

-- When Jones enters the cornfield at the end, does it mean he's died? If not, that ensuing book has to be an all-time best seller, right?

-- Listen, I'm not advocating that every wife-husband relationship should be a steamy affair...but the Coster-Amy Madigan dynamic would be an effective tool by schools teaching abstinence.

-- When the Black Sox invite other players to the field in order to have games instead of practice, Jackson remarks they didn't bring Ty Cobb because he was a "Son of a bitch." Excuse me while I choke on the irony of a cast of disgraced, excommunicated athletes not allowing a fellow bastard into their game.

-- Also in the end: Madigan is wayyyy too cool with her brother despite the fact he almost killed her daughter. Are people just more laid back in Iowa, or does she brush the incident aside because she's not being evicted? Either way, awful parenting.

Look, not saying I hate the film; there's a good chance I'll watch it again on a cool summer's night. But I also rewatch "Armageddon," and I'm not advocating that as a Hall-of-Fame film. "Field of Dreams" is a movie about baseball, family and dreams. And a bad one at that.


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