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Film Reviews
Talk To Me

by Vince Rogers

Title: Talk To Me
Starring: Don Cheadle, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Taraji Henson, Cedric The Entertainer, Mike Epps
Directed By: Kasi Lemmons
Produced By: Miles Dale, William Horberg, Bruce Toll
Genre: Drama and Biopic
Release Date: July 13th, 2007 MPAA
Rating: R for pervasive language and some sexual content Distributors: Focus Features

The great 20th century philosopher Sly Stone once said that “Everybody is a Star.” Some stars always rise to the occasion, some stars often fall from grace, some stars slowly burn out and some stars join to form shining constellations. During the course of their two decades long friendship, TV and radio personality Petey Greene and his manager Dewey Hughes would do all of the above.

Don Cheadle as Ralph 'Petey' Greene and Taraji P. Henson as Vernell in Focus Features' Talk to Me. Photo Credit: Michael Gibson © 2006 Focus Features. All Rights Reserved.

Talk to Me, helmed by Kasi Lemmons (Eve’s Bayou) chronicles the true story of the fall, rise and fall of one of America’s first, surely the most “colorful” and possibly the most highly controversial radio deejays and TV talk show hosts of all time, Ralph Waldo “Petey” Greene. Long before Howard Stern or any other “Shock Jock”, Petey Greene brought an uncompromising edginess and “racy” political incorrectness to the airwaves of our nation’s capital.

Petey Greene (Don Cheadle) dreamed very big, but the world he came from was low on opportunity. He was a product of the tough Washington D.C. ghetto and he could not manage to see a world beyond it. The only way he knew how to make a living, was by using his way with words as a street hustler. Unfortunately, this was before Hip-Hop and his rhymes didn’t pay him, nor could they keep him out of jail.

Petey wound up doing a long bid in a prison, where his gift for gab eventually leads to an assignment as the prison’s PA announcer. He would ultimately become the resident celebrity deejay of the penitentiary. One fateful day, he was asked to negotiate with an inmate who was threatening to kill himself. This good deed, his service to the jailhouse community and good behavior would ultimately lead to his early release. It’s a good thing that the warden never found out that Petey and the other inmate cunningly staged the suicide attempt themselves.

While Petey’s star was falling, Dewey Hughes (Chiwetel Ejiofor) star was definitely rising. He was a young executive at a popular, but “also ran” Black soul music radio station in the “Chocolate City.” Dewey and Petey once had a chance meeting at the prison where Dewey’s brother Milo (Mike Epps) was also incarcerated. At the time, Dewey called Petey a “miscreant” and facetiously challenged Petey to look him up when he got out of jail. Little did he realize what a unique creation Petey truly was.

Petey was determined to be a “Chocolate Star” and illuminate the citizens of D.C. with his unique take no prisoners style deejay skills. Shortly after his release from prison, he and his “Foxy Lady” Vernell (Taraji P. Henson) make a rowdy grand entrance at Dewey’s radio station to “Get his job.” Although he didn’t pass the first “interview”, he eventually makes it on the air in rather inspired fashion.

Petey always knew he needed a man of obvious talents like Dewey to help him get where he wanted to go. However, it takes a little longer for the highly polished, sophisticatedly urbane, well educated Dewey to realize that he needed what Petey had even more. Petey’s genuine grass roots love for his people and uncompromising simple tell it like it “t-i-is” integrity is what Dewey needs to truly achieve the stardom he so greatly desires.

Dewey wanted to be a star but he didn’t know how to say the things he needed to say to get there. Petey wanted to be a star, but he didn’t know how to do the things he needed to do to become one. Talk to Me is a constantly hilarious, often poignant and intensely inspirational story of two very different men trying to achieve their versions of the “American Dream.” It challenges us to remember that even people who seem desperately disparate may need each other to become the people they were meant to be. This is a Black history lesson that many of us have forgotten and one that others have never clearly understood.

Kasi Lemmons direction is simply outstanding. She manages to capture the “Black Pride”, civil unrest, political turmoil and class struggles of the time period with a high level of authenticity. Petey and Dewey embody the hopes, aspirations, griefs and frustrations of “inner-city” Black people in the 1960s and 1970s with heartfelt sincerity and compelling realism. Ms. Lemmons does an excellent job of bringing an almost flawless screenplay by Rick Famuyiwa (Brown Sugar) to life and manages to elicit brilliant performances from her talented cast.

In addition to turning in another customarily high quality performance that captures all of Greene’s complexity and charisma, Don Cheadle also served as the Executive Producer of Talk to Me. The other actors also turn in superb performances, which is to be expected from such talents as Martin Sheen, Cedric the Entertainer and Taraji P. Henson. However, Ms. Henson may want to be mindful of her repeated casting as the long suffering, dedicated, “Soul Sister” muse to her man with a heart of gold. Nevertheless, her performance was heartwarming, incandescent and inspired as usual.

It is no small task to steal a film from the likes of the extremely talented Don Cheadle, but Chiwetel Ejiofor (Dirty Pretty Things) as Dewey does just that. He superbly captures the hopes, dreams, angst and insecurities of many young Black people of the day, who were trying to escape their impoverished housing project backgrounds and move into the “Talented Tenth.” Ejiofor delivers a very engaging, multilayered, intricate, portrayal of a character that could easily have been seen by some as a villain. Instead, he manages to take the audience on a journey into the heart and soul of Dewey Hughes, a young man trying to define “Black Power” on his own terms. We come away with an endearing understanding of Dewey. He is a man who has also had to battle against the same system that almost managed to prevent Petey from sharing his gifts with the world and becoming a source of inspiration to the community he so dearly loved. Hopefully, we will see much more of Ejiofor’s magnificent talents in the future as he continues to take on the complex characters he is becoming known for.

Talk to Me is highly recommended. I encourage everyone to support this film. Hopefully, it is destined to one day become one of the classic films of Black cinema.

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