Talk is cheap
AFFIRMING the view that truth is stranger than fiction, Talk to Me charts the unlikely rise to fame of Washington, DC DJ Ralph Waldo “Petey” Greene in the late 1960s. If the scenario is to be believed, Greene was serving a 10-year sentence for armed robbery when he met WOL-AM programme director Dewey Hughes, who is visiting his brother in the same prison.
We are asked to believe that Greene persuades a fellow inmate to make a rooftop protest and then talks him down, and that the warden frees Greene as a result. When Hughes turns him down for a job, Greene somehow rallies a band of vocal supporters outside the radio station, even though most, if not all, of them have no idea who he is. Because the station’s ratings are declining and Hughes feels it is out of touch with the people, he agrees to let Greene on the air.
As tends to happen in showbiz biopics, Greene becomes an overnight success, but we anticipate that there will be problems on the way. The recurring conflict in the movie, however, is between the Greene, the jive-talking shock jock, and the conservative, ambitious Hughes, whose professional role model is TV presenter Johnny Carson. Greene chides Hughes as “a white man with a tan” and “a Sidney Poitier-ass nigger”.
Working from a script on which Hughes’s son was co-writer, Kasi Lemmons’s film is energetic but uneven in its episodic structure. What interest it has is due to the strong chemistry between the two leads. As Hughes, the consistently impressive Chiwetel Ejiofor is perfectly understated. And, resembling the young Richard Pryor with a moustache and Afro, the versatile Don Cheadle brings the flamboyant, chain-smoking and hard-drinking Petey Greene vividly to life, justifying why the character should be the subject of a movie.