"Talk to Me" showcases two strong figures in radio during '60s
Seattle Times movie critic
"Talk to Me," with Don Cheadle, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Cedric the Entertainer, Taraji P. Henson, Mike Epps, Vondie Curtis Hall, Martin Sheen. Directed by Kasi Lemmons, from a screenplay by Michael Genet and Rick Famuyiwa.
118 minutes. Rated R for pervasive language and some sexual content.
The story of two men who become essential to each other, Kasi Lemmons' "Talk to Me" is an eloquent portrayal of the bond of friendship. "I guess I need you to say the things I'm afraid to say," says Dewey Hughes to his friend Petey Greene, "and you need me to do the things you're afraid to do."
Though their names may not ring a bell, these characters are based on a real-life pair of colleagues and friends. Greene (Don Cheadle), a former convict, was a radio and television personality and longtime community activist in Washington, D.C.; Hughes (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a radio executive, was the man who gave him his first break.
In the movie, we see the flamboyant Greene (whom Hughes had met at a prison, while visiting his brother) strutting into D.C. radio station WOL-AM with his handlebar mustache and skintight '60s modwear. He wants a job, and Hughes is reluctant to give it to him. Finally, Hughes agrees, perhaps sensing that Greene is hiding some insecurity behind the strut. "Be on time," he tells Greene. "Be sober. Be by yourself."
Though Greene is often none of those things, he quickly establishes himself as a popular voice at the station, with his "eighth-grade education and Ph.D. on the streets." And he comes to respect Hughes, who hides his own street savvy behind conservative suits and careful diction. The movie (scripted by Hughes' real-life son Michael Genet and Rick Famuyiwa) bops along agreeably in its early scenes, with screechy support from Taraji P. Henson as Greene's girlfriend Vernell and a riotous array of psychedelic fashion. And then, everything turns dark, on a spring evening that began like any other.
"They got him, y'all," says Greene into his microphone, so quietly you wonder if it's somebody else. It is the long night of Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination, and the devastated staff of the radio station needs to keep the airwaves open, to keep talking to a desperately angry city. The halls are still, the faces seemingly drained of blood. You watch as Greene summons his strength to find the right words, to speak when he wants to scream. "Go home," he tells the D.C. crowds. "Put your anger away until we figure out what to do with it." The experience changes him, even as it establishes his stardom; through the rest of the movie, he's haunted by that night.
Cheadle, an actor of great intelligence and range (compare this role with, just to name two, his very different work in "Hotel Rwanda" and "Ocean's Thirteen"), makes Greene a constant work-in-progress; a man openly struggling with his own demons and yet possessed of a great capacity for joy. Ejiofor, a Brit who does a perfect American accent here, has the less showy role and turns it into the movie's rock-solid foundation. As Lemmons effortlessly makes her film both a colorful tour of the turbulent '60s and a delicately paced character study, the men emerge as two halves of a whole; often in disagreement, always brothers.
Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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