FOG, FAMINE, peat, potatoes, murder, guilt, obsession -- there's not a blarney stone (or a pile of seaweed) left unturned in "The Field," a painfully overwrought combination of "A Touch of the Poet" and "Zorba the Greek." Only two lines of dialogue in, a patriarchal, virtuous-with-labor Richard Harris ("Bull" McCabe, in another of his chew-scenery-for-breakfast roles) kneels down, plucks a whitened dandelion and intones, "This is what we'd be without the land, boy."
In short order, we meet the never-accepted widow from another Irish village, who owns the field Bull has been cultivating for 20 years; the fancy-mannered priest from the city; Bull's silent (for 18 years!) long-suffering wife; the long-dead first son whose suicide has spiritually crippled his younger brother; the "hoor" with the heart of gold who almost saves him; and the money-grubbing fists-in-pocket American in a shiny motorcar who wants to pave over the titular field for a factory. Somehow, from these tired figures, screenwriter/director Jim Sheridan (who did much better by the real-life Christy Brown in "My Left Foot") expects to evoke the doomed grandeur of the western Irish peasants, but only manages to make them seem slow-witted.
There is one remarkable performance by John Hurt as the toadying informer called Bird; although the character is entirely predictable, Hurt manages to make his solid frame seem jerky and underfed and his actions less malicious than simpleminded. Tom Berenger is dumbly doughy as the "Yank," who wants to drag the village into the modern era, and newcomer Jenny Conroy has a persuasive animal vitality as the tinker's red-haired daughter.
But Harris seems to have decided that the only way to deal with such staginess is with theatricality of his own. By the end of this disaster, the Bull stands amidst the corpses of kith and kine, beating back the inexorable tide with his blackthorn cudgel. Doubtless Sheridan meant him to be seen as the classical tragic hero struck down by a vengeful God, but it seems more as if He's just a pretty shrewd critic.