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Radio (2003)

His courage made them champions.

Directed by:

Mike Tollin

Rating: 4/10

Running Time: 109 minutes

UK Certificate: PG

Country: United States

The time is 1976, the place Anderson, South Carolina. Harold Jones (Ed Harris), the local school's football and basketball coach, discovers some of his players bullying a retarded young black man (Cuba Gooding Jr). Immediately, and with as much passion and drive as he puts into his coaching, Harold devotes himself to the welfare of James Robert Kennedy (nicknamed 'Radio' owing to his love of transistors), letting him help at the sports practice sessions and integrating him into the school itself, and the broader community. At first Radio's widowed mother (S. Epatha Mekerson) is suspicious, Harold's wife (Debra Winger) and daughter (Sarah Drew) are jealous, the school principal (Alfre Woodard) is worried, and the star player's father (Chris Mulkey) is furious, but as Radio gradually emerges from his shell, the whole town comes to accept and love him.

With its homely female voice-over, its setting in the south, its community values offset by simmering smalltown prejudice, and its stirring soundtrack full of pathos and sentiment, 'Radio' is determined to place itself in the tradition of 'To Kill a Mockingbird' – but while the resolute decency of Coach Harold Jones certainly revives the spirit of Atticus Finch, what 'Radio' lacks is any hint of the gothic menace which made 'To Kill a Mockingbird' so gripping. Everyone in 'Radio' is either nice, darned nice, or a bit mean (but basically nice), leaving little room for drama. There are some harmless schoolboy pranks, occasional confrontations between the coach and his principal (in which they both always end up agreeing!), and a vague attempt by rebel parents to have Radio removed from the school and placed in care – but this is hardly riveting stuff, and you may well find that, not unlike Radio himself, you have difficulty sitting still in your seat.

What redeems 'Radio' from touchy-feely oblivion is the quality of the performances. Ed Harris delivers the requisite moral authority, but he also gives Harold a certain awkwardness to prevent him from seeming more than human. Rôles involving mental disability tend to attract grotesquely over-the-top acting (and, ahem, Oscars), but Cuba Gooding Jr's portrayal of Radio's retardation is miraculously understated, even if there is not in the end much to Radio's character besides an enthusiasm for football, an appetite for pie and an unappealing desire to hug everyone all the time.

'Radio' is based on a true story (indeed the real Harold Jones and James Robert Kennedy appear as themselves in the final images), but it plays more like an adaptation of the New Testament, with the Christ-like Radio and his apostle Harold preaching their gospel of love and kindness to a community of all too willing converts. Not that there is anything inherently wrong with that – it is just a pity that there was not a bit more of Satan in the theological mix to spice things up.

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It's Got: Impressive performances, and, er, lots of American football.

It Needs: To be a little less like Pleasantville and a little more like Dogville.

Alternatives:

All the Right Moves, Pay it Back, To Kill a Mockingbird

Summary

True story of smalltown prejudice that is too nice, mild-mannered and cloying for its own good.

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19 Comments

  1. Posted December 3, 2009 at 4:46 pm | Permalink

    good poat

  2. Emily
    Posted May 3, 2010 at 7:03 am | Permalink

    im studying this movie for school and it so sad but i love the movie it just a great way to tell younger people not to judge people on colour and what has happened to these people with a mental diability not to judge them they didnt choose to be like this, that is how they were born.

  3. James Dalley
    Posted May 19, 2010 at 4:57 pm | Permalink

    i can relate to this movie it made me cry i love it

  4. James Dalley
    Posted May 19, 2010 at 4:57 pm | Permalink

    i love it

  5. Ashleigh
    Posted June 22, 2010 at 6:32 am | Permalink

    I loved this moviee, we had to watch it for skool! <333333

  6. darius
    Posted August 13, 2010 at 6:17 am | Permalink

    I’m only fourteen years old now I saw this movie when I was eight and even then this move had me crying and still makes me cry to this day

  7. Posted October 4, 2010 at 8:59 pm | Permalink

    awsum movie
    we watched this movie in school

  8. bis
    Posted December 3, 2010 at 5:42 pm | Permalink

    cool

  9. amy
    Posted January 14, 2011 at 3:05 am | Permalink

    I thought that this movie was amazing. i was really touched by the actions of the townspeople. I loved the part of radio out in the rain when the bus had to leave him behind. I almost strted crying then, watching him run through the field and fall in the mud, just to get up again. If you take my siggestion and watch this movie, you won’t be sorry. It really hit a nerve in me, and don’t worry- it was a good nerve.

  10. Jack
    Posted February 1, 2011 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

    Regardless of age or color, this is a must see movie. It proves that there are still people who will break from the “popular” thing to do and do the”right” thing. A moving story with a good cast. The kind of movie that fills your heart as well as lifts your spirit to a place where humanity should always aspire to be.

  11. Posted February 9, 2011 at 3:52 am | Permalink

    Oh my Gosh I love this movie,it’s very sad movie and i was really touched by the actions of the movie. It makes me to cry while i was watching the part when they left him behind and then Radio went to football field to play that moment I was crying. From this movie everyone will see and learn that we should be nice with them and not to judge about them. They didn’t want to be like that, that how they were born. Always we should look after them and to not laugh at them and that will make them feel more happy and succeeded in their life.

  12. annette h.
    Posted April 7, 2011 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

    Great summary, thanks for writing this!

  13. kyler
    Posted November 18, 2011 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

    this movie sucks dick

  14. kathy
    Posted February 13, 2012 at 5:15 am | Permalink

    I know it’s a bit late to join the Radio train, but I’m posting a comment anyway. I understand completely what the writer of this post is saying about the film’s need for a stronger antagonist. After all, Hollywood has us trained to pick out the Dark Vader and Luke in EVERY movie. However, I was born and raised in the South, and Radio (aside from some of the fake southern accents), is an excellent depiction of how it really is here. Very few people in the 70’s in SC would actually present themselves with “Mockingbird” type prejudice. In a REAL southern town in that era (and now), people are what we call “nicety.” If this story was completely fictional then the big bad wolf would have been easier to spot. But in a film based on a story that’s actually true, you’re only going to see a mean undercurrent, not a cruel and dramatic tidal wave that comes in Hollywood style. I thought the movie was spot on for the location and time period, but I would much rather be watching a Sci-Fi flick.

  15. Elijha Wilkerson
    Posted February 15, 2012 at 8:32 pm | Permalink

    personally i think the movie is great i would give it an overall 10. I like how Coach Jones took care of James(Radio)since no one else could expecially after his mother passsed

  16. Elijha Wilkerson
    Posted February 15, 2012 at 8:33 pm | Permalink

    And Kyer this Movie does not suck dick and im pretty sure that u were probably just like the bullies in the movie laughing and Special Ed Kids

  17. Posted March 5, 2012 at 6:10 pm | Permalink

    this movie was amazing, it inspired me

  18. TDBGM
    Posted November 22, 2012 at 6:36 am | Permalink

    I totally understand the author’s point of view here… one of a person with a distinct lack of empathy. I feel sorry for them, in that they couldn’t see how truly cruel the ‘evildoers’ here were. They certainly got better treatment than I would have given them.

    And I hope to god the author is *NEVER* responsible for the care of anyone with similar afflictions.

  19. Darcy
    Posted July 13, 2014 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

    I know I am very very late, but I just viewed this movie this year. I truly enjoyed it. It made me cry. I then viewed it with my boyfriend. He is Polish and I am African American. It made him cry. Cuba Gooding Jr. was absolutely fabulous!!! Bye the way. There was no need to portrait all the extreme hate that was really there in real life. We all knew it existed. It would have just made viewers angry and loose some of the good feelings they were enjoying!

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