Kevin Costner helped redefine the conventional baseball movie 32 years ago, all because the lead character dreamed of enjoying a better relationship with his long-dead father.
Field of Dreams, which was released April 21, 1989, wrapped the history of baseball with a big, emotional, supernatural bow. It gave us the Kinsellas, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Moonlight Graham and Terence Mann. And it was glorious.
Soon after the movie’s release “If you build it, he will come,” became part of the pop culture vernacular.
Kevin Costner was coming off a string of hits — the Untouchables, No Way Out and Bull Durham. He was at the top of Hollywood’s A list. And the folks behind Field of Dreams were willing to wait for Costner to have a break in his schedule to act in the movie.
Kevin Costner said in an interview with Entertainment Weekly that the movie’s Plan B was inserting Robin Williams as Ray Kinsella, the role Costner made famous.
The actor said: “When I finally asked (director) Phil Alden Robinson, ‘Why did you wait for me? Because I think Robin’s really great,’ he was like, ‘I do too. But I think that Robin could hear voices in the corn, and I needed a guy that you don’t believe is going to hear a voice in a cornfield.’”
Kevin Costner Played Farmer Ray Kinsella in Movie
Kevin Costner played Ray Kinsella, a guy in his mid-30s who is trying to keep his Iowa family farm. His brother-in-law, played by Timothy Busfield, wants Kinsella to sell the land to him so the bank won’t foreclose.
Kinsella hears a whispering voice: “if you build it, he will come.” So he turned his cornfields into a baseball diamond. And soon after, Shoeless Joe Jackson and his teammates from the Chicago White Sox, who had been caught up in a gambling scandal in 1919, came out of the cornfield to play their favorite game.
Kinsella’s father, John, loved Shoeless Joe and was broken as a fan decades before when the White Sox lost the World Series.
The cast also included Burt Lancaster, as Archibald Graham, who gave up his short-lived baseball career to become a doctor. It was Lancaster’s final movie role. And James Earl Jones, portrayed Terence Mann, an impactful writer who’d gone into personal exile. As a teenager, Ray Kinsella read Mann’s books.
Other stars in the movie included Ray Liotta and Amy Madigan.
Movie Was Really About Repairing Relationship Between a Son and Father
The theme running throughout the movie is baseball and love for family. Somewhere along the way, it repairs a relationship between father and son.
A sampling of the dialogue between Kevin Costner and James Earl Jones:
Terence Mann: “What was the awful thing you said to your father?”
Ray: “I said I could never respect a man whose hero was a criminal.”
Terence: “Who was his hero?”
Ray: “Shoeless Joe Jackson.”
Terence: “You knew he wasn’t a criminal, so why’d you say it?”
Ray: “I was 17. Son of a bitch died before I could take it back. Before I could tell him … you know. He never met my wife, never saw his granddaughter.”
Terence: “This is your penance.”
Ray: “I know. I can’t bring my father back …”
Terence: “So the least you can do is bring back his hero. Now I know what everybody’s purpose here is, except mine.”
By the End of Movie, We’re All in Tears
But by the end of the movie, we figure out that “if you build it, he will come,” was about another chance for Ray and John.
Ray sees his father, as a young man, walk out of the cornfields.
“My God, I only saw him years later when he was worn down by life,” Kevin Costner, as Ray Kinsella, says. “Look at him. He’s got his whole life in front of him and I’m not even a glint in his eye. What do I say to him?”
Ray introduces his young dad to his young granddaughter. And father and son have the catch Ray never wanted to have when he was a kid. Yes, this was Heaven.
Cue the tears in the audience. Field of Dreams managed to make us all get a bit weepy without being over-handed about it. The movie was nominated for three Academy Awards in 1990, including best picture.
Robinson, in a Forbes interview two years ago, said his movie project was turned down several times. But he said Field of Dreams offers a timeless message, especially in today’s divisive culture.
“I may be the last person on earth who would know the answer to it, but I think we live in cynical times and there’s a lot of nastiness out there,” Robinson said. “There’s a lot of ugliness and meanness. I think it’s a film that says it doesn’t have to be that way.”