Click here 4 stars

Touching
hearts,
opening
minds
Cuba Gooding Jr.

Cuba Gooding Jr., Ed Harris, Debra Winger star
in a true tale of good people doing good things

"Radio"

Reviewed by Carlos deVillalvilla

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A good cry can be as exhilarating as a good laugh. Any movie that can move viewers to tears, then leave them marveling at the triumph of the human spirit, is the aces.

Woodard, Harris, Winger, Drew

Cuba Gooding Jr., Ed Harris

Ed Harris, Alfre Woodard
Harold Jones (Ed Harris) is a successful high school football coach in Anderson, South Carolina. As he enters the 1976 season, his mostly untested young team has a lot of question marks, especially when it comes to character. When the star running back (Riley Smith) and some of his cohorts lock a young man (Cuba Gooding Jr.) of diminished mental capabilities in a shed after tying him up and terrorizing him, Coach Jones and his assistant, Honeycutt (Brent Sexton), step in and punish the boys.

Gradually, the taciturn Coach befriends the young man, who at first is unresponsive, unable even to tell the coach his name. Because of the quiet man's attachment to transistor radios, Coach Jones dubs his new friend Radio (his real name turns out to be James Robert Kennedy) and begins an amazing, unusual relationship. Jones takes Radio under his wing, despite the suspicions of his mother (S. Epatha Merkerson) and the misgivings of the school's principal (Alfre Woodard).

Radio blossoms, finally having people in his life who accept him instead of humiliate him. He goes from barely able to mutter more than a word or two at a time to an enthusiastic, talkative person, a regular at athletic practices and at the school itself, where he becomes an unofficial hall monitor and broadcaster. Gradually, he becomes an important part of the community.

But all is not perfect. The football team is not performing to expectations, and some believe that the distractions that Radio brings are to blame, particularly the town's banker (Chris Mulkey) whose son is the star running back who caused the initial trouble with Radio. His son plays an even crueler joke on Radio, which causes the school board, in the person of Tucker (Patrick Breen) to cast a suspicious eye on the situation.

Radio overcomes the adversity, but nobody is prepared for the greatest obstacle of all.

The cast is outstanding, particularly Gooding. At times his expression is so truly vacant it seems that really, nobody's home. And he skillfully makes the transition to an open personality, capturing the effusive personality of the real Radio to a "T" (the real Radio and Coach Jones show up at the movie's conclusion). After capturing an Oscar in "Jerry Maguire," Gooding has undermined himself with a series of terrible choices ("Snow Dogs," "Boat Trip"), but "Radio" puts him in the running again with a spectacular performance that may very well lead to a dark horse Oscar nomination.

Ed Harris is one of the most distinguished actors of our time. He is rarely seen in a role that isn't worthy of his attention, and I can't remember him ever giving a bad performance. Here, he is low-key, a Southern gentleman desperately wanting to do the right thing, but reluctant to explain why his relationship with Radio is so important to him. It puts a strain on his relationship with his wife (Debra Winger) and daughter (Sarah Drew), but Harris underlies the flawed goodness within the man that makes him believable and real.

Enough can't be said about Debra Winger. She make movies very infrequently, and that's a shame. She has a tremendous presence, and here shows particular restraint in a thankless role that isn't developed terribly well (she is seen reading Betty Friedan's "The Feminist Mystique" early on, but her character is hardly a feminist here), but Winger carries it off well. I hope we see more of her in the coming years.

Director Michael Tollin captures the importance of high school football in a small Southern town, and sums it up neatly in a speech Harris gives hear the end of the film:

"There's nothing better than looking for a win on a Friday night, and waking up on Saturday morning after you found one."

Tollin wisely concentrates on the relationship between Jones and Radio, how it develops and why. He cast Gooding and Harris well; the two work well off each other, and in one of the most gripping scenes of the movie -- when a distraught Radio is kneeling in the center of his room, inconsolable, the taciturn football coach, never a demonstrative man, opens up and comforts him.

The charm of Radio is that he treats everyone he meets with joy and love, as Coach Jones explains, "He treats all of us the way we wish we could treat half of us."

Be warned; this is the kind of movie that doesn't just elicit a sniffle; it's a full-on, tears-streaming-down-the-face weepie that leaves viewers feeling awesome when the lights come back up.

The real Radio continues to be a presence at T.L. Hanna High, where he can be found regularly during the football season leading the Yellow Jackets onto the field and joining the cheerleaders when the spirit moves him. He's as important to Anderson as the air they breathe, and one can only feel good that the rest of us get to share him now. Feel-good movies aren't always my cup of tea, but as manipulative as this one sometimes get, it certainly worked its magic on this cynic. Don't forget your hankies.

AT HOME OR AT A THEATER?
Although a good communal cry can nifty, those manly sorts who want to disguise their sniffles will find doing it at home much more convenient. And anyway, this is a football movie, isn't it?

See cast, credit and other details about "Radio" at Internet Movie Data Base.