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Film review: Field, The

Published: Tuesday, April 2 1991 12:00 a.m. MST

Richard Harris won an Oscar nomination for his performance in "The Field," and as it opens here Friday you can finally find out for yourself whether he deserved it. In my opinion, he did, giving depth to and making more complex an old-fashioned role that could have been composed of merely bombastic bluster. (Not that Harris has ever been without bluster.)

The film, however, is another matter. Predictable and interminably slow-moving, "The Field" appears at times to be an uneven blend of John Ford's "The Informer" and David Lean's "Ryan's Daughter" — plotting from the former and lush cinematography, the remote Irish location and a specific character from the latter.

This is especially disheartening since "The Field" was directed by Jim Sheridan, who did such a remarkable job with last year's "My Left Foot."

"The Field" is set in the '30s, casting Harris as the larger-than-life "Bull" McCabe, a bearish bully who has terrorized his tiny Irish village — not to mention his own family — for years.

Chief among his targets is a widow whose property includes a ripe green pasture in the midst of the coastal territory's otherwise rocky terrain, which McCabe himself has nurtured over the years, digging out rocks and fertilizing the land with seaweed.

Why he has chosen this particular spot to develop or whether the plot of land began to flourish prior to his working on it is never adequately explained, but it is nonetheless his obsession.

The problem is, of course, that the land belongs to the widow. She won't sell or move out and for years he has been making her life miserable, subtly harassing her with help from his son (Sean Bean).

At last, however, she has decided to leave, putting the land on the auction block. This is fine with McCabe, since he knows no one would dare bid against him. Until an Irish-American (Tom Berenger) comes along, that is, forcing McCabe to double his bid — and threatening to force it even higher.

McCabe feels that since he has nurtured the land it is rightly his anyway, regardless of what the law says. And to further his sin, the American doesn't want the land for its richness — he wants to lay down concrete in preparation for a road-building campaign.

On the domestic side, McCabe has not spoken to his wife (Brenda Fricker, last year's best supporting actress Oscar-winner for "My Left Foot") in 18 years, ever since the death of their other son. The events surrounding that death harbor secrets, of course, which ultimately explain McCabe and his family's behavior. But you will guess most of them rather quickly and perhaps wonder why the film takes so long to reveal them.

McCabe's right-hand gofer is old, toothless, dim-witted "Bird" O'Don-nell, well-played — if wildly over the top — by John Hurt in a way that may remind you of John Mills' outrageous performance (which won him an Oscar) as the town-fool hunchback in "Ryan's Daughter."

There are individual scenes here that contain some power and are rightly moving — the film is filled with gorgeous location shooting and wonderful performances, including Sean McGinley as a local priest, Frances Tomelty as the widow and Bean as McCabe's put-upon son.

But as a whole, the script, by the director (from a play by John B. Keane), is too often annoying in its eternal speeches and overt attempts at symbolism. It doesn't help that Sheridan directs with a flourish the material doesn't warrant, encroaching on the story's more intimate elements.

"The Field" seems like a displaced Tennessee Williams story and is sadly disappointing.

It is rated PG-13 for violence and profanity, but not a lot of either.

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