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Talk To Me

USA 2007
Directed by
Kasi Lemmons
118 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Sharon Hurst
3.5 stars

Talk To Me

Synopsis: In May 1966 Petey Greene (Don Cheadle) was serving a jail term and acting as a DJ within the prison. A chance meeting with a visitor to the jail, Dewey Hughes (Chiwetel Ejiofor), leads him to believe that upon his release he can get a job at radio station WOL where Hughes is a manager. The ever-persistent Petey manages to bulldoze his way into a job, much to the horror of station boss Sonderling (Martin Sheen). At that time America’s turbulent encounter with the Black Power movement is just beginning. Petey soon becomes a voice of the people, becoming the most popular black disk jockey in Washington and a trailblazer in talk-back radio..

This fascinating true story looks at a slice of black American history that I knew nothing about. Sure I knew about the era and its main events but nothing of this amazing character who pioneered black talkback radio against a backdrop of social upheaval and change.

The story spans a couple of decades, beginning in a light vein with the wonderful 60s soul music and a rather humorous approach to life within the prison, as well as life at the radio station where Hughes has been charged with the job of upping the ratings. Petey is the typical jive-talking, smart-mouthed streetwise dude, while Hughes, despite his rough upbringing, has entered the white man’s white collar world. Initially these two seemingly diametrically-opposed men clash but eventually a lifelong friendship is forged, with each being able to say and do the things the other couldn’t. It is only when Hughes begins to assume what Petey wants that things start to fall apart.

The story, although serious, is played strongly for laughs in the earlier part of the film. Some very funny lines and almost crazy situations develop, especially when Petey’s girlfriend, Vernell (Taraji B Henson), makes her “booty-waggling” presence felt. But as it progresses the film develops much more of an earnest feel and with the earnestness comes a slowing of pace and turgidity, which is a shame, given the vibrant nature of the characters and subject matter. When historical events such as the shooting of Martin Luther King , anti-war protests and street riots are dealt with, it all gets a bit too much of a potted history feel, and at other moments montage-like devices are employed to show a simplistic overview of the passing of time. However, despite this, a true sense of the difference between the three decades is well conveyed, with vital detail being paid to the amazing hairstyles (Afros abound!), the defining clothing and of course the music. The soundtrack is very strong.

With the friendship of the main men being very much at the heart of the story, the performances of the two leads are critical, and I’m here to attest that both give it all they’ve got. The remarkable Cheadle never skips a beat as the loud, brash, funny and fabulous Petey who develops his on-air style to become an iconic radio personality who knows how to speak to the heart of his people. In contrast, Chiwetel gives us a more sober and measured character in a very strong portrayal of someone quite different to many others he has played.

All the supporting cast are excellent – Mike Epps as Hughes’ incarcerated brother, Milo, Cedric the Entertainer as disk jockey Nighthawk, and especially Henson as the sexy Vernell.. Interestingly, the original story and co-screenplay writer Michael Genet is the son of Dewey Hughes, which no doubt in part explains the great feeling of authenticity we get from the characters and of the times.




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