“Radio,” starring Ed Harris and Cuba Gooding Jr., is more than a sports movie. It’s really a story about helping others, treating others with respect, and having the courage to do what’s right—especially when it’s not easy.
Set in 1976 in Anderson, S.C., “Radio,” which opens nationwide today, is inspired by the real story of James Robert Kennedy, also known as Radio because of his love for music and vintage radios.
Radio (Gooding) is mentally retarded and essentially a community outcast—until he catches the eye of a community leader. That leader happens to be the football coach (Harris) at Hanna High School. Coach Harold Jones is drawn to Radio for reasons we’re initially unsure of. But the boy who habitually pushes the grocery cart grabs Jones’ eye.
The coach invites Radio to help manage the team, and the drama is set in motion. The result is an inspiring movie that all ages will love.
The cast is excellent. Cuba Gooding Jr. needed a good role, not having found anything to rival his performance as Rod Tidwell in 1996’s “Jerry Maguire.” He hit the jackpot with this script and takes advantage of the opportunity.
Alfre Woodard plays the high school principal who feels pressure from townspeople regarding Jones’ efforts to give Radio a place not only on the sidelines—which some feel is a distraction—but also in the school.
Debra Winger plays Jones’ wife, Linda, and newcomer Sarah Drew plays Mary Helen, the daughter playing second fiddle to football.
The highest praise, however, belongs to Harris. Like Robert Duvall, Harris just gets better with age. He chooses good scripts and then makes them appear great by his mere participation in the project.
Harris brings a certain solidity to each character he plays and turns performance into truth. Here, he captures compassion in the net of sincerity and brings Gooding’s Radio into even better reception. His portrayal of Coach Harold Jones is memorable, so pay attention; a real man’s on screen.
The movie boasts other strengths, including a strong script by Mike Rich (who also wrote “The Rookie”) and a moving score by James Horner.
Mike Tollin, who has produced a number of sports-themed films (“Summer Catch,” “Hardball,” “Varsity Blues”), moves beyond any conventional sense of a “sports movie” to embrace more lasting themes, like courage to do the right thing.
At one point, the principal approaches Jones and asks him where “this”—being the help provided to Radio—is all going. Jones honestly responds that he doesn’t know. They are, in fact, charting new territory in what is basically special education. The movie doesn’t deal much more with this angle, nor does it touch much on the topic of integration, which would have been an issue of the time.
However, the movie, which runs about 1 hour 40 minutes, had to picks its battles, and those weren’t the ones chosen. Instead, it focuses mainly on the relationship between Radio and Coach Jones, and how the bond they forge influences the larger community and helps a few people get their priorities in line.
Near the end, Coach Jones tells some of the townspeople: “The way he treats us all the time is the way we wish we treated each other even part of the time.” Jones has that figured out, and that’s partly what stokes his fire.
“Radio” will join the likes of “The Rookie,” “Remember the Titans,” “Hoosiers” and “Rudy” as one of the family’s favorite movies using sports to explore some of life’s bigger lessons.
Consider taking some tissues, but don’t discount the movie as sentimental chaff. There’s nothing wrong with being a sucker for a movie about something that matters.
Cliff Vaughn is culture editor for EthicsDaily.com.
Visit the official Web site of “Radio.”
MPAA Rating: PG for mild language and thematic elements
Director: Mike Tollin
Writer: Mike Rich
Cast: Harold Jones: Ed Harris; Radio: Cuba Gooding Jr; Linda Jones: Debra Winger; Mary Helen Jones: Sarah Drew; Principal Daniels: Alfre Woodard.