This year at the movies, no actor has given as many quality performances as Don Cheadle. After receiving critical acclaim for two earlier films, he gives an Oscar-worthy performance as former criminal-turned-radio personality, Petey Greene, in the film, “Talk to Me.”
Recently promoted Program Director, Dewey Hughes (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is assigned to find a way to turn struggling radio station WOL around. While visiting his brother in prison, Hughes is unimpressed by the ramblings of jailhouse DJ Greene. When confronted by the brash personality, Hughes dismisses him, telling the wannabe-DJ to look him up when he gets out.
Greene is unexpectedly released and shows up at the station demanding “his” job. His antics initially upset Hughes who exacts revenge and gains a measure of self-respect by embarrassing and then embracing Greene over a game of pool. Once Greene gets on the air, he immediately connects with listeners, much to the chagrin of the station’s stodgy general manager (Martin Sheen).
Greene’s bold style is the perfect compliment for the turbulent late 1960’s that serve as the background for the film. He represented the essence of the station’s motto of “For the People and By the People.” The film explores the 18-year relationship between the popular personality and his polar opposite, program manager Hughes. He is the ultimate dreamer who hopes that Greene can get them to the promise land.
Far from perfect, the film presents Greene warts and all. Battling alcohol abuse and rampant womanizing, Greene still continues to soar. Rare in American films are two black men portrayed with such complex layers. Like two brothers from another mother, Greene and Hughes fuss, fight, yet still love and care for one another.
Under the direction of Kasi Lemmons (“Eve’s Bayou” and “Caveman’s Valentine”) the film crackles and pops. With wonderful supporting performances from Taraji P. Henson, Cedric the Entertainer and Sheen, Lemmons has created a funky, intoxicating stew.
While Cheadle’s performance is bold, brash and audacious, it is Ejiofor who is the film’s revelation. His understated performance gives the film its soul. His scenes with Cheadle are poignant and touching. In “Devil in the Blue Dress,” Cheadle’s performance as Mouse was his career breakthrough. A decade later, Ejiofor gladly shows that one good turn deserves another.
“You do the things that I can’t do and I say the things you can’t say,” Hughes tells Greene over a game of pool. This type of honesty among men is almost non-existent by Black characters in movies. In a summer largely devoid of Black performances, “Talk to Me” has a lot to say and is a damn good film.