Talk to Me
Rated R; Directed by Kasi Lemmons; Starring Don Cheadle, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Taraji P. Henson, Martin Sheen, Cedric the Entertainer
Talk to Me gives me something I enjoy in a film: two good actors playing against each other. In this film we have the marvelous Don Cheadle. He’s played the lighthearted thief in the Ocean’s Eleven films and the serious hotel manager escaping genocide in Hotel Rwanda. We also have Chiwetel Ejiofor. He’s been an obsessive government agent in Serenity and a boot-designing transvestite in Kinky Boots. The two work together in a movie that allows them to show their talents.
Talk to Me tells the story of radio DJ Ralph Waldo “Petey” Greene (Cheadle). Petey, an ex-con man, has managed a gig as prison DJ, entertaining other prisoners, including the brother of Washington, D.C. radio station executive Dewey Hughes (Ejiofor). When Dewey, visiting his brother, meets Petey he offhandedly suggests that Petey look him up when he gets out of jail. That’s all that con-man Petey needs. He’s out in no time and shows up at station WOL expecting more than a janitorial job – he wants to be a radio DJ. The fun is watching how Petey gets his way.
There’s plenty of humor in this look at a real radio personality from the 1960s. Petey Greene isn’t someone who blends into the background and Cheadle seems to have a blast playing the flamboyant Greene, striding around with his just as flamboyant girlfriend Vernell (Taraji P. Henson having a grand time). Ejiofor has the harder role as the uptight Dewey who becomes a fan of Petey’s. The fun ends when Martin Luther King is assassinated. Amidst the riots Greene goes on the air and offers a voice of — if not sanity – a voice of empathy.
Cheadle portrays the self-destructive Petey Greene with humor and compassion. Ejiofor gives us the ability to see how Dewey lives through Petey’s celebrity and makes it understandable that he could push Petey to bigger playing fields than just radio. Petey’s appearance on the Johnny Carson show is painful to watch as we see both Petey and Dewey behaving in character.
Director Kasi Lemmons (Eve’s Bayou) successfully brings back a time when the world of radio wasn’t yet a syndicated, corporate-controlled, bland world, but a place where someone like Petey Greene could get his chance. It’s too bad that the movie didn’t get much of a chance in the theatres. It’s also a crime that the DVD doesn’t offer a director’s commentary. The special features do include a lovely deleted scene with Martin Sheen, playing the station owner, who has a beautiful monologue about Martin Luther King.
Talk to Me is not a great film. But it is an entertaining one. With Don Cheadle and Chiwetel Ejiofor it’s also a film with two great performances.