Talk to Me (R) **1/2
Don't be surprised if the name Ralph Waldo Greene doesn't ring a bell. It won't for most people. His pseudonym, Petey Greene, may be recognized by a few die-hard radio or history buffs, but otherwise, the story of Petey is largely unknown.
That's not to say it's not a worthwhile tale, as is made evident in "Talk to Me." Outlining the rise, fall and subsequent rising again of Greene, "Talk to Me" depicts the loud-mouthed jailbird turned loud-mouthed radio personality. Ushering Washington D.C. through the turbulent civil rights movement of the 1970s, Greene took the city's airwaves by storm and dared to talk about the things others are scared to say.
Portraying the live wire Greene, Don Cheadle, as expected, brings his A game. From his puffy 'fro and '70s chic attire to his swaggering walk and bad-mouthing ways, Cheadle wholly embodies the riotous radio icon. While he may have the most recognizable name on the cast list, "Talk to Me" isn't the Don Cheadle Show. "Talk to Me" isn't even the Petey Greene Show.
The focus of the film is the story as it was seen through the lens of Dewey Hughes (Chiwetel Ejiofor, "Children of Men"), Greene's manager and longtime friend. Though Cheadle is tagged as the star of "Talk to Me," that title can rightly be shared with Ejiofor, who is able to convey an entire page of dialogue through a single glance or Cheshire grin. Ejiofor and Cheadle have the rare, undeniable chemistry of brothers on the screen. They may not be related by blood, but they share the common gene of great acting.
As the effervescent Vernell, Greene's longtime girlfriend, Taraji Henson rounds out the leading cast of talent. Though she is of a lesser degree of fame, best known as Shug from "Hustle and Flow," Henson carries her own through the film. Never outshining her counterparts but never hiding in their shadows, she is the perfect balance to what is otherwise a male-dominated film.
To be sure, "Talk to Me" isn't a straight biopic drama. Built upon layers of underlying social issues, human emotions and plenty of humor-filled scenes, director Kasi Lemmons digs beyond the straightforward story to present a bigger picture.
Male friendships, especially those between two black men, are rarely depicted on the big screen. Lemmons doesn't shy away from the concept and conveys the sheer vulnerability shared by Hughes and Greene. Had a male director been at the helm, it's doubtful such a strong sense of emotion would have been extracted from the characters. Lemmons' range brings a lot of depth to what could have been a flat story.
Perhaps now, more than ever, "Talk to Me's" message of outspokenness and political incorrectness is one that audiences need to hear. After all, the First Amendment is a marvelous thing, as Greene - and now Lemmons - have made perfectly clear. (Focus Features)