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If you are interested in acting, do yourself a favor - see this movie.
Richard Harris' performance is as good as film acting gets. His character,
Bull McCabe, is not a man so much as a force of nature. In the opening
sequence, he and his son, Tadgh, who is 30ish to Bull's sixty-something,
are carrying heavy loads of seaweed from the ocean back to their farm. Bull
casually strolls along, seemingly without effort, while Tadgh struggles and
stops periodically to rest. This scene sets the tone for the rest of the
story. No one in the village ever opposes Bull - it would be futile, as well
as unwise. But when the land his family has tended for generations as tenant
farmers is purchased by an American bent on developing it, Bull must
confront something he cannot defeat with will and sinew -
"The Field" is a study of a very specific time and place, with plot developments that seem lifted straight out of the Old Testament. Sheridan does an excellent job of opening up the story, which was adapted from a stage play. The action takes place all over the village and surrounding areas. The cast is composed of Irish and English actors (except for - ahem - 'The American'), which really gives the film a strong sense of authenticity. Each character has a story, and the gradual unfolding of the various conflicts and secrets builds an ominous sense of impending disaster.
John Hurt gives another in a long line of outstanding performances, but this film belongs to Harris. The only thing that keeps it from becoming an all-time classic is Tom Berenger. We get no sense that he wants the field for any reason other than the script requires him to, and it seems that director Jim Sheridan knew it. When a central character (Berenger) in a film delivers his most important dialogue FACING AWAY FROM THE CAMERA (looking out a window), it is the directorial equivalent of punting. Even so, Berenger is not in enough scenes to ruin the movie. It is just that it could have been so much better if he brought something to the part that could match up with Harris' primal force.
While studying in Ireland, the subject of movies about - or filmed in - Ireland came up often with the locals. From Dublin to Galway, the movie mentioned most often was "The Field." Controversial and yet considered to be one of the truest representations of the Irish people of that era. It's also one of the few stories told about those who stayed behind during the famine, and survived. If you're looking for a feel-good movie about leprechauns, this ain't it. If you're up for "Gangs of New York" or "Legends of the Fall," you can handle it. Incredible performances by the late, Great Richard Harris and Sean Bean.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
It's surprising that none of the comments about "The Field" make reference to one of the most popular films of all time, John Ford's "The Quiet Man". The stories are almost identical. An American of Irish descent returns to buy land wanted by a local farmer. Both Irish farmers are brutish and readily prone to violence. Both inspire fear in their neighbors. In "The Field", the farmer murders the American, but in "The Quiet Man", the American is John Wayne, so you know who will prevail. John Ford's movie is one of remarkably beautiful scenery, of charming folk and peaches and cream complexions. Except for the land-owning farmer, there doesn't seem to be a calloused hand in the cast. Hardly anyone works and drinking seems to be everyone's way of spending the day. Movie fans have spoken of seeing "The Quiet Man" dozens of times, as I have. It's a feel good movie. But "The Field" shows the true harshness of rural life in Ireland and how it brutalizes those poor who struggle for their daily existence. It's an uncomfortable movie but a truthful one which gives the lie to "The Quiet Man's" sentimental view of 'the old country'. It also shows the foolishness inherent in rosy nostalgia. Millions of Irish left their homes for good reason. Unlike John Ford's nostalgia, "The Field" helps you understand why they left.
A powerful film.
The story of an Irishman fighting to own and protect the land he and his family transformed from rock-strewn waste to verdant pasture from foreign encroachment and development.
I won't recap the story line because it's so complex, but some thoughts occurred to me as I watched:
Bull McCabe perfectly symbolizes the heathen heart of Europe, untamed by Christianity (symbolized by the pasty-faced priest) or crass capitalism (symbolized by the bland Yank). Note how Bull carries a staff and wears cloak-like outfits throughout the film, looking very much like a Pagan high priest. He is, at heart, a savage who will cast off the artificial chains of foreign religions and phony social mores to defend one of the most primal concerns of man: territory.
The priest pointedly notes at one point that the people in this rocky Irish village are covered with only a "thin veneer of Christianity," implying that their paganistic racial memory runs too deep and strong to be ignored. And only a few scenes later is the first, bloody climax of the film when that "thin veneer" is ripped off.
An excellent film which deserved more praise than it got and should not be missed if the chance to see it arises.
I had never heard of The Field before, and I could hardly believe how
good it is. What a shame that it is so little known. The story starts
out slowly but builds up to a climax that is perfectly logical, totally
based on character, and awesome in its intensity.
The script is superb, particularly in that use of language at which the best Irish writers are unsurpassed. But the real strength of the movie lies in the amazing performance of Richard Harris, surely one of the all-time great movie performances. He should easily have won the Oscar over Jeremy Irons in Reversal of Fortune, brilliant though Irons is; perhaps Irons only won because too few people had seen The Field. Bull McCabe is a great character who is being torn apart by conflicting emotions: his love for the land, his love for his son, his love for God and for the Church, and his frustration at never being able to achieve what is important to him. His devastation at the end reminded me a lot of King Lear, and indeed this movie has a power like one of the best of Shakespeare's tragedies. As one reviewer has already noted, the only weakness is the poorly-sketched character of the American and its lack of a believable motivation. Even with that weakness, it rises far above most of what passes for serious drama these days.
John B. Keane's critically acclaimed play The Field, is the one play
that 90% of the population of Ireland will know. They will either know
the plot or have studied it for state exams. My own grandmother is 80
years of age and she dislikes any kind of media and theater describing
them as pure noise. But when she hears that The Field is playing she
will instantly take an interest not because of it's fame but the themes
that are produced in this play are very important to her and her
generation and many generation that followed her up until the late
1980's when Ireland slowly began to change into a European union state,
with it Irelands ethnic identity began to disappear. We may still have
the accent but our lifestyles and attitudes are very different in some
cases evidently for the better, but more often then not for the worst.
In the early 90's two films documented the Ireland of old, these were
The Commitments a joyous look at young Irish people using their musical
talents to broaden their horizons and The Field an unforgiving bleak
look at the life of a headstrong farmer whose life begins to falter
when a stranger arrives in his village. Arrival of the stranger
symbolizing change. A change that could disrupt the harmonious
existence of life in the little village long after this stranger has
Bull McCabe is a poor Irish farmer that works a rented field. This Field represents everything that has happened in the Bulls life. His families blood is soaked in the field. He rents it from a local Irish Widow who the Field belonged to her late husband. All the Bull wants now is to own this precious land. He has worked this field for many years. He brings seaweed from the coast line every day and plants it on the grass to enhance it's fertility giving it the freshest looking grass. To look at the Bulls special field we know that it takes years to attain that result and what's more any dereliction in maintaining the field will result in the field acquiring the same unfertile status as the surrounding land. When The Bull speaks about the field there is no pride but it is replaced by a nostalgic tone. His nostalgic tones also produce a chilling portrait of a man who is willing to stop at nothing to protect the field that is dear to him. When the actions of his son lead to the widow selling the Bulls precious field at public auction. The Bull comes face to face with losing his field to an American.
Jim Sheridan's direction is magnificent and his script (totally unlike the stage version) is also brilliant. Playing the Bull is legendary thespian Richard Harris whose fiery temperament and personal beliefs match that of The Bull. Harris's reputation of being difficult and uncompromising attitude nearly cost him role. A role that was originally going to the late great Ray McNally who unfortunately died before filming commenced. Today I cannot imagine The Bull being played by anyone other than Richard Harris. His portrayal of The Bull McCabe is that of being a brutally uncompromising farmer. A farmer despite his evident aggression had vision and respect for the earth he walked on. A farmer who would kill for you if it was needed or kill you if the tables were reversed. For me personally this is Harris's best role because with every word and action on screen I see that Harris is truly immersed in the role of the Bull.
Sheridan is in my opinion is Irelands Best Director. He uses the theme of the relationships between Irish father and son in all his films. In this film we learn about a stubborn man whose materialistic desires and expectations of his surviving son lead to horrible catastrophic results that affect the a community. The son in this film is Tadgh who is played Sean Bean. Unfortunately with all Sheridans films the supporting cast who are always very strong are overshadowed by one performance. In this film Bean is very under rated. His portrayal of Tadgh is that of a loner who is uncomfortable with the expectations of his father The Bull. These expectations lead him to develop an eagerness to please his father and lift of some of the burden that these expectations place on his own life. Also in the cast is excellent Tom Berenger who portrays an eager yank whose only hope is for his ancestors town land to prosper with his investment in the Bulls field. Berenger's yank character is very similar to that of Tadgh. He has returned not only to see his ancestors home place prosper but he too is doing it to please his families expectations back in America. Both men are determined to succeed in their respective duties. Berenger captures exactly what we Irish dislike about Irish American's coming to Ireland and that is their naive approach to a country they know very little about. A mistake that Berenger's character makes with his airs and graces.
As an Irish Film The Field is the best by a long shot. The script is good, the cast are excellent but most importantly it succeeds in drawing you into it but the strength of the story alone. It has not been bestowed the same commercial success as Sheridans other films for one reason. This reason is that the film contains a lot of Irish traits such as attitudes to strangers, the churches stance on suicide and many hidden references to Irish History. To me personally this is not a fault of the film, but a fault of peoples ignorance to ethnic film makers who want to tell stories from their ethnic back ground. All together a very fine film full of very fine performances. 10 out of 10
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Bull" McCabe is a proud man. All he lives for is to eke out a meager
existence out of the green piece of land that has seen generations of
his ancestors make something out of a small plot in rural Ireland. Like
his forefathers, Bull is a tenant farmer who leases the farm from the
young widow that is terrorized by Tadgh McCabe, Bull's son, who goes to
her house every night to play tricks on her. This woman has had it and
decides to put that land for sale in a public auction; let the higher
bidder be the new owner.
The McCabe family is not exactly a happy one. There is the ghost of a young boy that killed himself under mysterious circumstances. Bull and his wife Maggie, hardly ever speak. The only reason for Bull to stay is his desire to leave the "field", as he calls the small farm, to his son. This way, the land will remain a part of the McCabe's history. Tadgh, on the other hand, is a man who doesn't share his father's desires for staying put and struggling to eke out a living out of this small farm.
Into this mixture, a new man, an American, comes to visit the area and sees the possibilities of riches that no one has seen. The "Yank" notices how he can turn the area into commercial uses, something the locals would feel horrified about what this stranger wants to do. Everyone's loyalties lie with Bull McCabe.
"The Field" points out to Ireland's unhappy past where lots of people died from famine and thousands had to abandon the country in order to survive. The ones that remained are proud, although impoverished, with deep roots to their country. How dare this foreigner come to take what they feel it's Bull's? Tragedy strikes with a confrontation between Bull and the Yank. He makes his son fight the man who wants their land. A freak accident occurs that changes everything. Bull is able to bid successfully for his field, but the main reason he has fought for, eludes him.
"The Field" is based on a play by John B. Keane, which we never saw. The writer has a clear idea about what resonates with these folks in the rural setting where he places the action. Jim Sheridan, an Irish director was the right choice for bringing this story to the screen. Elmer Bernstein's evocative music plays well with the action of the movie. Jack Conroy's cinematography contributes to create the right mood for the story.
Mr. Sheridan's biggest achievement was to give the leading role to Richard Harris, an actor that is the whole reason for watching this sad movie. Mr. Harris transforms himself into the Bull McCabe of the story. There are no false movements on his part; he is a man who will not be stopped in owning a place that has seen generations of McCabes that has worked that land. Mr. Harris dominates the film.
The supporting players are fine also. Sean Bean is seen as Tadgh, the son that doesn't share his father's love for this desolate place. Brenda Fricker is also effective as Maggie McCabe. John Hurt is seen as 'Bird' O'Donnell, the man who seems to know all the secrets of the people in the town. Tom Berenger is the Yank, and although he has a minor role, his part is pivotal to the outcome of the story. Jenny Conroy is good as Katie, the tinker.
"The Field" was Jim Sheridan's second directorial effort and it clearly showed to be the right man for showing Ireland and its people at their most proud.
The Field is film which carries a universal message about the ongoing struggle between modernity and traditionalism. It is also a uniquely Irish film which may make some of the scenes lack relevance for an international audience. The meaning of such scenes as the "American Wake", which was essentially a death wake which was held for young Irish people up until as recently as the 1960s on the night before they left for America never to be seen again, might be missed by non-Irish people. However the final scene where the Bull McCabe aka Richard Harris attempts to push back the incoming Atlantic tide speaks of the universal futility of man's attempts to control nature or indeed, inevitable progress.An excellent movie.
I am glad to see from the previous comments that there is much
from around the world on this film. However there has been no comment on
this site (that I have seen) about the writer, John B.Keane.
John B (as he was more commonly known) is a legend in Irish literature
unlike so many others I had the pleasure of reading much of his work
he was still alive. John B lived all his life in Listowel, Co.Kerry where
ran a pub. He has been writing for many years mainly about the characters
that he knew and grew up with. Much of his work was based on these people
and adapted for fiction.
If you walk into any good bookstore I am sure that you will come across
plenty of his work. If you like The Field then I recommend that you read
High Meadow, Durango & Under The Sycamore Tree. John B wrote several
along with The Field including Sieve and Sharons Grave These are
novels and give a brillant insight into Ireland in the 1950's & 60's. But
for those of you who know nothing of Ireland, it is not the Ireland of
John B Keane died last year (summertime I think). May he rest in
Coincidentally, Richard Harris died last October. This film is a fitting tribute to him as it is in my humble opinion one of his finest performances and one of the finest in film history. Truly great actors show their colours in this film and what it means to be able to act. I am glad to say that Sean Bean gives an outstanding performance in a very unfamilar role as Tadhg. John Hurt is also outstanding in a difficult role.
Riveting performances by Richard Harris, Sean Bean, and John Hurt (nearly unrecognizable!) in a dark, tragic tale of life in post-famine Ireland. This is the perfect film to launch a film discussion group with. There's plenty to talk about after viewing it, that's for sure. It's not what I'd call an "intellectual" film, but it's definitely memorable. If you're an American, like me, and you saw John Hurt as Caligula in the PBS series "I, Claudius"--you won't believe his performance in "The Field". Amazing. (Note from my wife to Beanstalkers: There are a couple of scenes...) Details? The horses pulling the gypsy wagons are the right breed. And in the pub scenes, you can almost taste the beer.
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