Perhaps the under appreciated Ed Harris will finally get the recognition he deserves with a star turn in the unabashedly Hollywood "Radio."
Movies based on true stories are generally handled two ways: They're either heart-warming a la "The Straight Story," a movie about a man who drives a tractor cross country to see his brother, or luridly revealing such as "Citizen Kane," a classic film that gives an unflattering portrayal of newspaper publisher William Randolf Hearst.
"Radio," a film about a friendship between a football coach and a mentally impaired young man, is the former. It is sentimental, but not overly so. Yes, it blatantly pulls at the heart strings (bring tissue), but the performances and the story are enough reason to see this film starring Harris and Cuba Gooding Jr.
Set in the 1970s in Hanna, S.C., "Radio" introduces us to Coach Harold Jones, played by Harris. He is a fair-minded, even-keeled coach, and Harris gives the man a quiet, compassionate strength. Give Jones a field and a football team and he comfortably hits his stride, but he flounders when dealing with his high school daughter. Coach Jones needs a reminder to straighten out his priorities. As in almost all Hollywood movies, he is lucky enough to receive such a reminder. His name is James Robert Kennedy, aka Radio.
It seems Hollywood actors try to beef up their resumes by playing characters that are normally pushed to the edges of society. For example, Dustin Hoffman received an Oscar for his portrayal of an autistic brother in "Rain Man." "Forrest Gump" established Tom Hanks as an actor who could pull in millions of dollars. Heartthrob Leonardo DiCaprio snagged his famous role in "Titanic" after playing a mentally-challenged boy in "What's Eating Gilbert Grape." Gooding can join their ranks with his successful portrayal of Radio.
Gooding never steps out of character. He maintains his odd gait, stuttering speech and hunched posture to embody Radio's handicap. Gooding allows Radio to blossom from introverted onlooker to team cheerleader in a believable fashion.
However, the star of the picture is Harris. Coach Jones sets the tone for the entire film. Not only does Harris look every bit the part, with his porkchop sideburns and corduroy fedora, but he is the embodiment of what every coach should be. He inspires his players to do well without harsh critiques and hopes they learn by his example. He holds his own at the community barbershop where men gather after the game to discuss the team's performance. Coach Jones doesn't bite when baited with discerning barbs.
Director Michael Tollin clearly has confidence in Harris and allows him to carry the picture in his capable hands. However, as a relatively new director, Tollin plays it safe in producing an easily palatable film that should strike a chord with movie-goers looking for a nice story with a happy ending.
As the credits roll, Tollin includes footage of the real Radio and real Coach Jones. Radio still cheerleads and helps out the high school football team in the small South Carolina town. Even though I'm sure the glamorized movie version has some Hollywood static, thanks to Harris and Gooding "Radio" comes through loud and clear.
"Radio"Rated - PG
for mild language and thematic elements
Starring: Ed Harris and Cuba Gooding Jr.
Director: Michael Tollin
Length: 106 minutes
Now playing at: Astoria Gateway Cinemas, Cannes Cinema in Seaside and Neptune Twin Theatres in Long Beach, Wash.
Short take: Gooding and Harris star as Radio and Coach Jones who strike up a unique friendship that teaches them both a thing or two. Based on a true story, Gooding portrays Radio with warm authenticity, but it's Harris that gives a star turn as the unwavering and genuine Jones.
Rating: 3 stars
4 stars: Absolutely the best
3 stars: Good, solid entertainment
2 stars: Wait for the video
1 star: Don't waste your time
Movie Trivia: Which famous artist has Ed Harris portrayed on film?
Movie Trivia answer: Jackson Pollock