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September 17, 2007

Movie Review – Talk to Me (2007)


Talk To Me stars Don Cheadle and Chiwetel Ejiofor in a biopic of Petey Greene, a radio personality popular in Washington, D.C. during the civil rights era. Cheadle and Ejiofor are really excellent, and their performances elevate an otherwise competent, but unremarkable film into one worth making an effort to see.

I described Talk To Me as a biopic of Petey Greene, but it would be more accurate to call it a biopic of the friendship between Greene, played by Cheadle, and his radio producer/manager Dewey Hughes, played by Ejiofor. Talk To Me confronts the inherent problem of the biopic– how do you condense a person’s life into a two hour movie– and resolves it by focusing squarely on the relationship. While the historical events that form the backdrop to the story are treated seriously, the course of Greene and Hughes’ close, professionally productive and sometimes conflicted friendship is the real story told by the film.

Overall this was a good choice, as it provides necessary dramatic structure and pares down the events of Greene’s life to a manageable scope, but it isn’t without its drawbacks. The story begins with the men’s first meeting and ends with their parting, in between leapfrogging from one significant event to another. The movie simply skips over the period of their estrangement entirely.

The frequent jumps in time create a sense of discontinuity and it is especially disconcerting after the final forward jump to find that many years have passed and their lives have changed dramatically, and to have not seen any of it happen. Other characters abruptly appear and disappear from the story according to their convenience to the friendship plot, which is also frustrating.

The great advantage of the film’s relentless focus on the Greene/Hughes relationship is the showcase it creates for two fine actors to create compelling, three dimensional characterizations. Cheadle’s part is the more colorful of the two. Greene seems to have been an intense, dynamic, creative, vulgar and self-destructive personality. He is the type of vivid character that actors love to play and that frequently overshadow the films they appear in. Playing opposite Ejiofor gave Cheadle the opportunity to drill down to the substance of Greene’s personality in a way that would probably not have been possible without the dramatic counterbalance of the more sober, but equally strong-willed Hughes. That Ejiofor is not overshadowed by Cheadle, and that Hughes is at times even the more interesting character than Greene, is testament to the equal excellence of Ejiofor’s performance.

3 stars

Read more from Helen Geib, Movie Reviews