Sam Raimi made his name in over-the-top horror films. He broke into the mainstream with movies like Darkman and The Quick and the Dead, but they still had a hint of the macabre. Even A Simple Plan had the trademark Raimi quirky darkness. But now that Raimi’s directed Kevin Costner in a sentimental baseball movie, what’s next? A G-rated David Lynch movie? Wes Craven directing a touching drama?
Well, it’s all true.
Field of Dreams, 1989, Phil Alden Robinson, Kevin Costner's second baseball movie.
Costner plays Billy Chapel, a pitcher who’s been with the Tigers his entire, 19-year career. The owner, Roy Wheeler (Brian Cox) confides to Billy that he’s had to sell the team and that the new owners will trade him away next season. If Billy would quit, it would sweeten the unsatisfying business of selling the team.
Billy’s pitching arm is in constant pain and he’s not getting any younger. His girlfriend Jane (Kelly Preston) stood him up last night and this morning she told him she is leaving him for good. His team stinks this year and today’s game means nothing to the Tigers. Billy realizes that after today, his life as he knows it will fade quickly and unglamorously away.
He resolves not to give in. He resolves to fight the only way he can, by playing ball.
For seven innings, the film shows his life in flashback as he broods on the owner’s request, his brilliant career, his relationship, and his love of the game.
Come the eighth inning, Billy realizes he’s in the midst of a perfect game. If he can get past six more batters, he will have the perfect reason to retire, and maybe follow his girlfriend to England.
For a large part of the movie, the emotion works. (For Love of the Game has been called a tearjerker, and not unfairly.) Costner’s not the most aggressive of actors, but the low-key brooding was well within his grasp. His relationship with Jane seemed genuine and caring. His relationship with baseball was particularly convincing.
However the character of Jane was not given a life of her own. She was more a plot device than a person. She’s a single mother who lives in New York as a freelance writer for beauty magazines. I know single mothers and I know freelance writers. You do not feed two mouths on a freelancer’s salary, especially in New York.
Her career aside, there are other places where her fights with Billy are clearly written for the plot, rather than arising from the characters. Billy says to her face that his personal trainer is more important to him than she is, something even the crudest of males would know not to say. Later, Jane, in return, snaps at him and angrily dumps him. It’s clear that they fight, but it’s not clear why either one of them, individually, would. The only explanation is that the plot needed more conflict.
The supporting characters were pretty good, considering how small a role each one played. Jena Malone (from Contact) played Jane’s daughter Heather, both as a 13-year old and a college freshman. Bill E. Rogers played Birch, Billy’s former teammate and current opponent, with just enough exaggeration to make him stand out. And John C. Reilly (Boogie Nights, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?) gives another very good performance as a strong supporting player.
For Love of the Game was well directed by Raimi (who managed to sneak in a little blood and some talk of disfigurement). Small details give away some of the thought that went into each scene, like the jeers of the crowd while Billy pitches, or the constant presence of autograph seekers in New York City.
In spite of some obvious flaws in a very important area, namely character development, the emotion of the story plays pretty well. The sentimentality isn’t for everybody, but if you’re interested in seeing it, go for it.