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Film review: Field of Dreams

There's no question that "Field of Dreams" is a throwback to movies of yesteryear. After all, how long has it been since we've had a flat-out fantasy laced with innocence and a gentle, yet powerful pro-family message?

Even the recent "Chances Are" had its smarmy moments.

But "Field of Dreams" never loses its focus or its sense of what it wants to be, and consequently the film achieves a euphoric state that seems rare in modern movies. And my guess is it's something that has been missed, and once word gets out about this picture it will play to standing-room-only audiences all over the country.

The film begins with a brief biographical sketch of Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner), whose father loved baseball — his hero was Chicago White Sox player "Shoeless" Joe Jackson — and hoped his son might grow up to be the player he was never able to become. Unfortunately, it resulted in an alienation between father and son that was never resolved.

Ray married an Iowa girl (Amy Madigan) and somehow found himself a farmer raising fields of corn, along with a young daughter (Gaby Hoffman). He's never done a crazy thing in his life, Ray explains, but he's about to, and as the film's modern setting unfolds he is standing in his cornfield one early evening when he hears a whispering voice say, "If you build it, he will come."

"If you build what, who will come?" his wife asks, but Ray has no answer.

Eventually it comes to him that he is to build a baseball diamond in the middle of his cornfield, therefore mowing down his main crop. He thinks its a little crazy, of course — and so does his wife. But he is compelled to do it anyway.

The result is a visit from "Shoeless" Joe Jackson (Ray Liotta), who returns from the dead to play on the ball field and eventually brings with him the rest of the disgraced Chicago "Black Sox" who threw the 1919 World Series.

Then Ray is guided to link up with a former radical '60s writer (James Earl Jones) and an aging former baseball player (Burt Lancaster), who eventually figure in the mystery of this bizarre spiritual experience.

That description may sound more weird than enchanting, and I have to admit that the theatrical preview for this film left me cold when I saw it a few weeks ago. I can only say that cursory descriptions and the previews do a disservice to what is actually a magical, often funny, utterly delightful movie, one that will stay with you for some time to come.

The performances, appropriately low-key and perfect for this piece, are played superbly by the actors, and writer-director Phil Alden Robinson, basing his screenplay on W.P. Kinsella's novel "Shoeless Joe," manages to at once evoke an old-fashioned style of filmmaking with nostalgic overtones and an up-to-date yearning for the ability to reconcile our past mistakes with our present lives.

Robinson also wrote and directed the delightful but underrated "In the Mood" last year and wrote the screenplay for Carl Reiner's hysterically funny "All of Me," which, in my book, remains Steve Martin's best film.

This film proves those accomplishments were not flukes and Robinson is a talent to watch for in the future. And for me "Field of Dreams," rated PG for a few scattered profanities, is so far the best film of 1989.