Judge Katie Herrell talks to her rhododendrons.
Our review of Talk To Me (HD DVD), published November 15th, 2007, is also available.
Inspired by a true story.
Talk to Me has a rhythmic cadence fitting of a film about talk radio but unfortunately none of the stimulating dialogue.
Facts of the Case
Ralph Waldo "Petey" Greene (Don Cheadle) is a fast-talking, substance-abusing thief who when the movie begins is in jail. Dewey Hughes (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is a suit-wearing, fingernail-shaped radio executive who calls Greene a miscreant when he encounters him in the jail's halls while visiting another inmate. The two are set up as polar opposites, connected only by their love of radio. This film is about the learning and teaching they provide and take from one another, lessons that ultimately bring each man to a better place.
There's a cadence to this movie, a rhythm. Like a musical, each time a lesson is to be taught or an important plot line introduced the rhythm changes, someone steps up to center stage and belts, or whispers, the important dialogue.
Cheadle has this rhythm down pat. He can be cocky and brash, with words just flowing out of him and jerky movements that say, "Here's the Man!" But then he can suck all that in, really condense his face, and submit a soliloquy of moral and earthly significance.
While Ejiofor's presence is more subtle, he is also capable of the same transition and the same power. But while Cheadle's appearance and body movements can follow his voice's transition, Ejiofor seems less flexible in this way and must rely on elocution. Every word comes out controlled and precise when he's making a point. His voice lowers and the tone deepens and he serves his recipient a harsh diatribe that is just as powerful as Cheadle's flamboyant or somber ways.
Unfortunately, the dialogue these two men have to work with isn't memorable compared to the execution. That's a shame because the story is memorable. Petey Greene, fresh from the joint, looks up a radio executive he met briefly and badgers him for a job. After weeks of haggling, the radio executive risks his own career for Petey's fresh voice. What begins shakily turns into one of the strongest voices on radio in the '60s and '70s. Petey Greene becomes the voice of D.C. and he leads his followers through Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s death and other pivotal moments.
Then power and greed seeps in, and the radio executive looks to capitalize on Petey's success at too high of a cost. A falling out occurs and eventually the radio executive learns to harness his own voice for radio success.
While this movie was obviously set in a very distinct time, I never had a strong feeling of place. Only the announcement that these lives were evolving in Washington D.C. indicated the film's setting. While the set and wardrobe is colored '70s brown, I felt like the film relied a bit too much on clichéd settings and wardrobe changes to convey the era. When Hughes took over the mic he lost his polished suit for a free-flowing tunic; a tunic that seemed very much like a forced costume.
Also, the other plot lines of the film—aside from the radio portion—seemed tacked on. While Petey's life was intertwined with the turbulence of these two decades, the discussion of race and rioting and death and war in this film seemed an afterthought. At all of these points the film came to a halt, a lesson was presented, then the film resumed.
I thought the DVD's special features, "Who is Petey Greene" and the deleted scenes, might offer some more insight into the film's flow and message; instead these two sections seemed choppy and relied on talk rather than message as well.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
There is a Spike Lee movie, Bamboozled that addresses the elements of race and violence, and the film's characters personal relevance to these issues brilliantly. Bamboozled also carries a haunting soundtrack. In one scene of Talk to Me where Greene is realizing the gravity of his voice and the slippery slope down which he is headed, the background music sounds exactly like a page from Bamboozled's songbook. With this one song, the gravity of Talk to Me, and the influence and impact of the real Petey Greene became overwhelming.
Talk to Me comes from a good place. It is a good story and the acting is powerful. However, the dialogue and setting don't match the story or its cadence.
Guilty. The true story is best left a true story and not a recreated one.
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Scales of Justice
• "Who is Petey Greene?"
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