Sometimes Funny, Sometimes Heavy, Always Engrossing
In Talk to Me (2007), director Kasi Lemmons (Eve's Bayou) successfully navigates some tricky changes in emotional tone and gets powerhouse performances from Don Cheadle and Chiwetel Ejiofor. The film tells the tale of an unusual business relationship between two very different African-American men during the turbulent period from 1966 to about 1972. The movie is inspired by a true story.
Cheadle is brilliant in the role of Petey Greene, an ex-convict who became a colorful radio and television personality in Washington, D.C. As depicted in the film, Petey was seldom boring, but he couldn't resist saying things on the air that got him in hot water. For example, in one scene he talks to his radio listeners about Motown in a way that likens its founder Berry Gordy to a pimp.
Ejiofor is terrific in the less flashy role of Dewey Hughes, the director of programming who gives Petey his big break. The elegant Dewey always wears conservative suits and ties, and he speaks in an upper-class manner that does not betray his upbringing in the projects. Petey sometimes needles Dewey by calling him Sidney Poitier or Mr. Tibbs, references to In the Heat of the Night (1967).
But dissimilar as Petey and Dewey may be, they make a good team at the height of the Civil Rights Movement. Dewey gets Petey a job as a talk radio host and battles with the station's management to keep him on the air. For his part, Petey has the gift of being able to communicate with the black community in the nation's capital, helping ordinary folks sort through perplexing issues.
Emotionally Charged Scenes and Evocative Music
For its first hour, Talk to Me is entertaining, but it turns serious with the 1968 assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The film recreates the riot that broke out afterward in D.C., where the residents set fire to hundreds of structures. As the voice of the people, Petey must go on the air and help to restore calm. This is a marvelous sequence that ends with Petey sadly surveying the devastation as the soundtrack plays Sam Cooke's moving "A Change Is Gonna Come."
Almost immediately, there's another superb sequence where Petey emcees a concert that's been hastily organized to try to get things back to normal after the riot. Uniformed military troops with fixed bayonets surround an agitated crowd, and Petey shows up late and drunk. But he's still able to begin the transition of the crowd's mood from angry to hopeful, which is completed when James Brown comes out and performs "Say It Loud — I'm Black and I'm Proud."
Because Petey's and Dewey's capabilities are complementary, their business partnership is highly effective for a few years. But it turns out they don't have the same long-term goals, and they eventually go their separate ways. Then there's a poignant scene where Petey tries to reestablish contact, and the soundtrack plays Sly & The Family Stone doing "If You Want Me to Stay." This sets the stage for an ending that is bittersweet.
The Talk to Me DVD comes with three extras, the best of which is the 11-minute "Recreating P-Town." In it we learn about the film's costume and production design, and director Kasi Lemmons tells us how she went about recreating a 1972 episode of The Tonight Show for the movie.
"Who Is Petey Greene?" is a 10-minute featurette in which the film's cast and crew give their interpretations of the real-life historical figure played by Don Cheadle in the movie. This is occasionally interesting, as when Lemmons mentions that shock jock Howard Stern once appeared in blackface as a guest on Petey's TV show.
Finally, there are half a dozen deleted scenes with a total running time of eight and a half minutes. Three of the scenes are heavy-handed: one involves Martin Sheen speechifying in the role of the radio station manager, another has a TV executive reprimanding Petey because of his rude treatment of a city councilman, and a third shows Petey giving an inspirational speech at a high school graduation. The remaining three scenes don't add enough to justify their inclusion, and Lemmons's decision to cut all six was wise.
Below I have listed the details for the DVD containing Talk to Me.
Release Date: October 30, 2007
Feature Film Run Time: 1 hour 58 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Pervasive Language and Some Sexual Content
Widescreen (2.35:1), Color
English 5.1 Dolby Digital
English Captions for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing
Deleted Scenes (6 scenes, total runtime = 8 1/2 minutes)
Who Is Petey Greene? (10 minutes)
Recreating P-Town (11 minutes)