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|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E||
dir Michael Tollin|
scr Mike Rich
with Cuba Gooding Jr, Ed Harris, Alfre Woodard, Debra Winger, Chris Mulkey, S Epatha Merkerson, Riley Smith, Brent Sexton, Sarah Drew, Patrick Breen, Bill Roberson, Kenneth H Callender
release US 24.Oct.03, UK 14.May.04
Put me in, coach: Gooding and Harris
Even though Tollin's direction is too slick and cosy, the film comes to life in its vividly written and performed characters. Gooding somehow avoids grandstanding in what would normally be an Oscar-bait role; he remains completely unselfconscious, drawing out Radio's simple honestly without ever being noble. And Harris expertly underplays the script's heroism to instead play a normal guy doing the right thing for a change, but still finding room for improvement. Supporting characters are also strong--Woodard as the conflicted school principal, Merkerson as Radio's earthy and caring mother, Smith as a jealous but thoughtful star player, and especially Winger as Jones' patient wife. Mulkey is also good in the thankless villain role, but it's here that the film begins to unravel: Why do we need a villain?
Screenwriter Rich seems obsessed with introducing dramatic conflict, which feels both strained and convenient. Everything remotely meaningful in the narrative is telegraphed heavily both in the script and in the filmmaking itself (major musical shifts, clunky direction). At least they avoid a cornball climactic game or an overwrought gruelling confrontation in lieu of an intriguingly understated finale ... which of course gets very weepy. As a look at how one person's compassion can transform someone else--and a whole community--this is a powerful story indeed. But it would be much better as a scruffy indie, free from the slick, manufactured structure of Hollywood.
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