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Oct082011

Talk To Me (2007) review - Don Cheadle can work a mic

Talk To Me is based on the life of radio personality Ralph Waldo "Petey" Greene. It’s a classic rise and fall story that managed to keep me engrossed throughout the film. It’s filled with heartfelt moments and the funniest monologues I’ve heard in my life.

Petey Greene and his mic

Petey Greene (Don Cheadle) is a convict serving jail time for drugs and armed robbery. After years building a good relation with the other inmates by hosting a prison radio show and cutting a deal with the warden, Greene is released. The rest of the story follows him and his life of getting the word "of the people" out via the one way he knows how: with a radio mic.

As Green, Don Cheadle once again shows his versatility. It's amazing why Cheadle doesn't get more attention. Though he often plays secondary characters and tends to win plenty of awards, nobody seems to get excited about the next big Don Cheadle movie. He’s one of those few actors who seems to be able to play almost any role. Steve Carell always plays the senseless guy; Tom Cruise is always the action hero; and Adam Sandler can only act like he's been shot with a tranquilizer. But Don can act the military man, the guardian, the villian, the comedian, you name it. In Talk To Me, he plays the freest spirit in the world.

Enter Dewey Hughes (Chiwetel Ejiofor, who you may have seen in Serenity). Dewey is Petey’s way in. He’s the desperate program director who hires Green in an attempt to raise ratings and give Petey a chance to get his life in order. In time, their relationship begins to sour as Greene continues to stir up controversy. Before long, the typical "opposing personality misadventures" ensue, with the two butting heads, but Director Kasi Lemmons handles this conflict smoothly. You almost forget that it’s a common movie template, and that’s a good thing. 

An excellent film...

After thinking about the movie and re-watching it several times, it’s still difficult to pick favorite lines and scenes. Don Cheadle steals the show in every scene he’s in. Thankfully that’s most of them, but that's not meant to imply that anyone else was bad. Ejiofor, who plays Dewey Hughes, portrays the perfect upstanding citizen without pushing it so far that he becomes an unbelievable character.

At other times the story and script seemed flawless. Petey’s smart mouth and hold-no-bars attitude was portrayed beautifully, as well as Dewey’s "successful minority" persona. The costumes were extravagant (as they should be--it was the 60’s-80’s), and the cinematography was great. There were only one or two awkward cuts where you wish you could see how a scene would play out.

Did I mention the soundtrack? It's awesome. The music ranks right up there with Cheadle. The first song you hear will immediately put a huge grin on your face, and being the 70’s the soundtrack is full of classic funk and soul. 

As an added bonus, Cheadle has the best muttonchops you’ll ever see during part of this movie. There is no punch-line. That’s just a fact.

...with a few flaws

Unfortunately the script and acting weren’t without their flaws. At several points, the acting seems very rough and overly melodramatic, to the point where it undoes some of the immersion. While these moments of over acting do come and go pretty quick, they tend to happen during important portions of the film. A certain melodrama was called for at parts but it was sometimes overdone, which distanced me from the story.

The worst parts of the movie were the extras. Luckily, there were very few, but several of them looked as though they were reading directly off of a teleprompter. It was noticeable but not so much that it detracted from the overall enjoyment of the film.

One gripe with the story: For a "true story," it's pretty false. When you hear a movie to be based on a real story you expect there will be plenty of inaccuracies, but not completely made up facts. Don't watch Talk To Me with the expectation for a good biography. It's not accurate, but it is a good movie.

So what’s the verdict?

Download it, buy it, watch it online, do whatever you have to do to see this movie. No, it’s not accurate, and the acting’s a bit faulty at times, but it gets what a lot of movies nowadays don’t: it's fun. It has laugh out loud moments, but at the same time, it works in a serious tone (properly I might add) when it needs to. You’ll leave this feel good movie doing just that: feeling good.

Rating:  (Good)

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