Review: The Field (1990)

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I used to think you’d be crazy to mess with Tom Berenger, now I know differently!

Written By: Jim Sheridan
Directed By: Jim Sheridan

I was surprised after I finished watching The Field to realize that it was a much maligned film. Every other critic who I enjoy seemed to be taking great joy in ripping the movie to shreds. Alas, one man, Gene Siskel, stood with me in greatly enjoying The Field. The problem seemed to be that most critics, and people, couldn’t take the constant allegorical nature of The Field. They wanted something more real, a real town with real images and real people, instead of a town that was an allegory for one idea after another. I disagree with the town not being real and I also disagree with the idea that a movie can’t be a giant allegorical tale. Movies are by and large messages delivered from the film maker to his audience, and so even the silliest of movies contains some sort of allegory. With that being the case there is no reason that a film can’t take the path of becoming an allegorical tale from start to finish. You don’t have to agree with the message, you just have to listen.

The Field begins and ends with Richard Harris as Bull McCabe. While I may have touted The Field as a straight allegorical tale above, the truth of the matter is that the people who are able to accept the allegorical nature of the film quickly realize that Richard Harris drives every moment of The Field. Bull is domineering, controlled, but at the same time he is a man losing control of himself and in order to avoid his past and his future he runs from his insecurities and the world around him. Bull remains stubborn in his ways, unflinching against the need to change, not willing to see the people around him in any terms but his own. Richard Harris delivers every line in The Field with total conviction and belief in his character, he gives one of the strongest performances on film. This also creates a bit of a problem, because his character is so large and so grand that none of the other actors can keep up with his performance, no matter how hard they may try.

Back to the allegorical nature of The Field for a second. The Field is a movie about man’s inability to change, about his ability to entrench himself in his own stubbornness. The Field also asks the question about a man’s right to the land he has worked on. Does the land rightfully belong to the owner, or does it belong to the man who has worked that land into its current state? Have the Irish lost respect for the old ways, or are the old ways getting in the way of Irish progress in the world? Finally, when does a man go too far to protect his own interests? Where does that line fall in between criminal actions and self-preservation? The Field asks all these questions and some more and it asks them in scene after scene. The Field is an allegory from start to finish, and from start to finish you will question every action that every character takes because of the stories allegorical nature.

The Field was a play brought to the screen, and it is one of the better plays ever brought to the screen. It feels like a stage play throughout, but it never loses sight of its story or its message. People when watching The Field scoffed at the idea of a man putting up a fight for one patch of green land when there are so many other patches of land around him. These people have most likely never worked a day in their life to turn something that was barren into something lush. Something ugly into something beautiful and something they could call theirs. Once you have done that, you will fight for that creation and if you aren’t careful you could lose yourself because of that creation.

Rating:

***1/2

Cheers,
Bill

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