The Kasi Lemmons-lensed "Talk to Me," starring Don Cheadle as notorious shock jock and television personality Ralph "Petey" Greene, is an absorbing, way to spend two hours. A historical drama laced with sharp doses of comedy, the film depicts the roller coaser ride of Greene's life and provides the perfect vehicle for the incredible Cheadle to sink his teeth into.
In mid-1960's Washington D.C. Greene is five years into a sentence at Lorto Reformatory for armed robbey and already infamous as the prison disc jockey when he crosses paths with Dewey Hughes, portrayed by the engaging Chiwetel Ejiofor, a representative of local AM radio station WOL who is leaving the facility after visiting his brother.
"Your brother said y'all need a new DJ at that radio station," Greene says to Hughes. "Hey, I'm your man!"
"You're in prison," he replies.
"It's a minor challenge."
Through smart maneuvering Greene is able to procure an early release, and persistence pays off when he lands his own radio program "Rapping with Petey Greene," although he is under the watchful eye of station head E.J. Sonderling, played by Martin Sheen. Though initially fired for his dirty mouth and brazen manner, it soon becomes clear that he must be reinstated; the people have spoken, and he is their voice. When shocking events like the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. rock the city and bring the turbulent decade to a head, Greene is there to calm the sad, the angry and all in-between as his popularity continues on the upswing. With Hughes as manger and creative partner, will he savor his newfound position as local luminary, or grow too big for his own shoes?
Cheadle nails the role not only because he is an adept comedic actor but also because he knows how to navigate the dramatic nuances that possessed Greene at the height of his fame. His range is so vast yet his performance so natural that, like most good things, it is easy to take for granted. Ejiofor is pitch-perfect as Hughes, candidly displaying the humanity of a man so hell bent on achieving success and rising above his modest upbringing that he soon becomes blind to reason and, most significantly, where he came from. Sheen is also firmly in character as the bureaucratic yet benevolent Sonderling, and Taraji P. Henson is a delight as Greene's brassy girlfriend Vernell.
The film could be a solid 20 minutes shorter, and the few but notable historical inaccuracies peppered throughout the plot are needless, especially in these days of Google and Wikipedia. However, "Talk to Me" is still nonetheless wholly entertaining and even inspiring.
Look for Cheadle to garner an Oscar nod this coming Tuesday.