TALK TO ME
© 2007 by C.E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.

Washington, DC from the 1960s until his death
in 1984. He got his start as a disc jockey while
serving time for armed robbery at Lorton Prison
in Virginia. Paroled early, he landed a spot on
the radio at WOL-AM thanks to program director
Dewey Hughes. With his straight-shooting,
no-nonsense style, Greene became a success
whose influence is felt to this day. (He has been
cited as an influence for Howard Stern, among
others.) Now, his story -- or at least a part of it
-- has been translated to the big screen in
TALK
TO ME
, directed with finesse and skill by Kasi
Lemmons from a script by Michael Genet (the
son of Dewey Hughes) and Rick Famuyiwa.

Eschewing the standard biographical drama
outline, the movie plunges the audience directly
into the story. Greene (Don Cheadle in an
extraordinary performance) is heard on the air
and then it is gradually revealed that he is
broadcasting to inmates in prison. Among those
listening is Hughes (Chiwetel Ejiofor in an
equally terrific portrayal), who has arrived at the
prison to visit his brother (Mike Epps, who has
little to do). Greene and his girlfriend Vernell
(the excellent Taraji P. Henson) cross paths with
Hughes and Greene comes to believe he will
have a job at Hughes' radio station upon his
release.

When Greene does get paroled early, he and
Vernell show up at the radio station and create
an amusing scene. After agreeing to meet
Hughes, Greene learns not to underestimate the
other man whom he has been mocking as
"Sidney Poitier" and "Mr. Tibbs" (after Poitier's
character in
IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT).
Hughes may dress in fine suits, have money,
speak well and from all appearances "sold out to
the man," but underneath he is not unlike
Petey. As he tells him, "You [Greene] say the
things I'm afraid to say, and I do the things the
things you're afraid to do." Thus, an intriguing
partnership and friendship is born.

Hughes gets Greene an on-air tryout which goes
predictably wrong, especially when Greene offers
a less than respectable riff about Motown's
Berry Gordy. Station manager E.G. Sonderling (a
solid Martin Sheen) becomes apoplectic and
demands Greene retract his statements, but his
"apology" merely fuels the fires. But, the rant
strikes a chord with the listeners and Hughes
has a hunch that Greene might just be the wave
of the future. Risking his job, he conspires to
get Petey Greene back on the air -- which, of
course, turns out better than expected.

The film hits a high point on the night that the
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated
in Memphis. Leaving the station and witnessing
the rioting, Greene goes back on air and
advocates for calm in the wake of this national
tragedy.

The film suggests that event was the turning
point in the relationship of Hughes and Greene;
from then on, Hughes began to function as his
manager, booking Greene into nightclubs and
later on a public access television show.
Greene's "act" was grounded in reality and his
scathingly humorous observations appealed to a
core audience. Driven by his own need to be
accepted, Hughes books Greene on
The Tonight
Show with Johnny Carson
and the results lead
to a schism between the two men. At this point,
TALK TO ME begins to lose a little steam as it
heads to its conclusion.

Lemmons nicely balances the contrast between
her two protagonists and the script allows the
audience to see that Greene and Hughes really
did complement one another perfectly which is
also captured by the performances of Cheadle
and Ejiofor. Veering from comedy to moving
tragedy to a bittersweet ending,
TALK TO ME
captures the spirit of a man and the times in
which he lived. It may not be a masterpiece, but
it's pretty damned close.


Rating:                B+
MPAA Rating:        R for pervasive
                           language and some
                           sexual content
Running time:      118 mins.


Viewed at Magno Review Two
Kasi Lemmons' TALK TO ME, a Focus Features release

Photo: Michael Gibson