The new film from Jim Sheridan, director of My Left Foot, is an ambitious and sometimes compelling wreck — a mythical black-Irish Western that seeks to expose the centuries-old neurosis festering within the Irish soul. Set in a beautiful, rain-swept Irish village during the 1930s, The Field centers on a grizzled old town patriarch named Bull McCabe (Richard Harris), a semi-impoverished farmer who has spent years cultivating a small, emerald green field he doesn’t actually own. Still, he’s the one who made it fertile, and when the field is put up for sale, he feels it’s rightfully his. He’s not going to let anyone stand in his way — certainly not the American businessman (Tom Berenger) who wants to buy the field and pave it over with concrete.
Adapted from the play by John B. Keene, The Field is about the primal, religious attachment Bull feels to the earth that has sustained his family for generations. The movie is an epic indictment of his devotion. Bull is so obsessed with his field, his precious way of life, that he’s forgotten why he’s living that way. He loves The Land but despises people. Harris gives a seething, wounded performance that attains moments of startling power. Yet his character — like everything else in the movie — is too big and symbolic. The story would have worked better had he been made into less of a metaphorical monster. Sheridan, a very gifted director, is a realist at heart, and the top-heavy allegory of Keene’s play finally defeats him. Still, The Field has a bitter melancholy that gets under your skin, and it features fine work from Sean Bean as Bull’s cowering son and John Hurt as a giggling, drunken town simpleton. B-