Directed by: Kasi Lemmons
Premise: True story of Ralph “Petey” Greene (Don Cheadle), an ex-con who became a major Washington D.C. radio personality and community figure in the 1960s and 70s.
What Works: Talk to Me is a great film about the relationship between local media and the community. Don Cheadle is terrific as Petey Greene and he captures the man, the voice, and especially the flaws of the character. Cheadle’s performance and the script allow the character a dual existence on the air and in private life and the relationship between the two roles gets intermixed with one affecting the other. Many of Cheadle’s scenes introduce Petey through his hip posturing but then give way to a closer character study of the man, revealing a sensitive and flawed individual. Less flashy but no less significant in the film is Chiwetel Ejiofor as radio station program director Dewey Hughes. Ejiofor’s role contrasts with Cheadle’s and together the two characters tackle a variety of social subjects, among them what it means to be African American and how someone from a minority background functions within a white power structure while maintaining their own cultural identity. This culminates in Petey’s radio broadcast after Martin Luther King Jr. is assassinated and D.C. nearly rips itself apart in race riots. As Petey’s popularity swells, the film deals with social and racial issues in ways that are at least as engaging and as complex as anything in Crash. The conflict and reconciliation between Petey and Dewey is an extraordinary example of interpersonal relationships used as a microcosm for larger social issues while never losing sight of the characters.
What Doesn’t: The pacing is just a little off in the last third of the film, as it makes big jumps through time. Dewey takes a bigger role in this part of the film and the shift in the film’s focus is a little shaky. It’s not nearly enough to derail the film but it is an awkward transition since Cheadle’s character is such a strong presence up until that point.
DVD extras: Featurettes, deleted scenes.
Bottom Line: Talk to Me is a great film about the power of mass media, like a more thoughtful version of Howard Stern’s film Private Parts. It’s a terrific story that is uplifting and inspiring, and like Good Night, and Good Luck it reminds participants in media and consumers of media just how powerful this form can be.
Episode: #172 (December 30, 2007)