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
03/US 1h49

Put me in, coach: Gooding and Harris

harris gooding
woodard winger
Radio Support Shadows: Buy a Poster
If it weren't true, this film would be unbearable in its heartwarming expressions of tolerance and love. But it is true, and the characters have an authenticity that transcends the over-earnest filmmaking. As a young man, James Robert Kennedy (Gooding) is nicknamed for the ubiquitous radio he carries around his South Carolina town. It's the mid-1970s, and his race and mental disability leave him on the fringe of society until the high school's Coach Jones (Harris) asks him to help with the football team he's so clearly fascinated with. As their friendship deepens, they draw out the best in each other and the team, even as the town remains suspicious of Jones' motives and Radio's place in society.

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.

cert PG themes, some language 8.Apr.04

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2004 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall