An American classic that depends on the sport, subculture and colloquialisms of an understanding audience may not make the transition to the United Kingdom as well as expected. It is the reverse effect of projects such as I, Daniel Blake or The Damned United not quite working out their American market. Not because they necessarily need to, but because the culture is so volatile and different in comparison. Field of Dreams is a bridge for that gap, an experience led by grand performances that can include just about everyone in its baseball-led drama, sports jargon et al. Audiences can connect with ideas and cultural pieces beyond their own, but not baseball. Baseball is the sport of hell.
That much is reflected on not in Field of Dreams but in an early episode of The Simpsons, which sees Homer realise how boring baseball is without the effects of alcohol. What Field of Dreams successfully realises is that it’d be a horrifyingly dull sport without Kevin Costner and Ray Liotta holding their own against a tidal wave of emotionally overreactive moments. It oozes the cheesy charm of the late-1980s genre style a little too well, a little too tongue-in-cheek for the underdog story rising higher and higher. But that is the American Dream in its dying breath, the implication that uppity routines and larger-than-life characters could save the sinking ship.
They cannot, but Field of Dreams can be delightful at times. In the right moments, it inspires a delicacy that will revel in the strong leading performance and crucial message at the heart of it. A story of never giving up is always a treat, but the casting and direction are what make the message stand out and stand up on its own. Field of Dreams is a gracious success. Likeable characters that feature in a film dependent on the spirit of unity and teamwork. They are Americanised and put through the wringer, but with infectiously fun results that pry at the usual routine of broken relationships between a father and son. The adage “If you build it, he will come” forms the core of Field of Dreams, which director Phil Alden Robinson uses as an excuse to turn the story of Shoeless Joe (Liotta) into one of familial bonds and regrets of the past.
Those are the easy links Field of Dreams can make and associate with itself. To do so is harder than it would first appear, but Costner is a natural in this area. He makes the mind-bending parts intimate and the slow-burning fires of emotional poignancy feel like great blazes. Field of Dreams will not linger on as one of the greats, but, like many of Costner’s films, it is a grand display of his skill and his great dependability. All-star players and the beautiful American game do well to steer Costner to an emotionally warm performance that will touch and affect viewers with all the usual aggrandization. Regret, the big swing and miss of failing to perform familial duties and the eventual turnaround that comes from a maddening project. In this case, it is the building of a field that will make emotions and the reactionary experience come.