Talk to Me
R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E dir Kasi Lemmons
scr Michael Genet, Rick Famuyiwa
with Don Cheadle, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Taraji P Henson, Martin Sheen, Cedric the Entertainer, Mike Epps, Vondie Curtis-Hall, Sean MacMahon Alison Sealy-Smith, Ngozi Paul, Richard Chevolleau, Herbert Rawlings Jr
release US 13.Jul.07, UK 23.Nov.07
07/US Focus 1h58
Talk to Me
On the air: Cheadle and Ejiofor

henson sheen cedric

London Film Fest

Talk to Me Based on the true story of a radio presenter who not only changed the industry but also his society, this film's slightly uneven structure is easily overcome by the exceptional cast.

Dewey Hughes (Ejiofor) manages a soul station in 1966 Washington DC, fully aware that society is changing. The old-style programming is obsolete, so he takes a risk letting pushy ex-con Petey Greene (Cheadle) loose on the breakfast show. Dewey's boss (Sheen) is horrified by the trouble-stirring, politically honest Petey, but eventually sees the ratings rise as millions tune in. After Martin Luther King's assassination, it's Petey who calms down the rioting Georgetown residents. But Petey's alcoholism is threatening his career, as well as his relationship with his feisty girlfriend Vernell (Henson).

With a terrific song score and archive footage of Martin Luther King, President Johnson, Johnny Carson and others, the filmmakers recreate the 1960s with energy and style. This was a tumultuous chapter in American history, and the events are integrated beautifully into the narrative, giving us a feel for how these characters approached unprecedented situations with creativity and wisdom, even though they each take a different approach.

Cheadle and Ejiofor have terrific on-screen chemistry--Petey's soul-man grooviness contrasting brilliantly with Dewey's slick company-man intelligence. This gives us a visual hook for their friendship's defining element: Petey is the daring voice, while Dewey is the action-man. Their interaction pops with raucous humour and conflict. And the supporting cast just gets out of their way. Still, Sheen registers superbly as a man concerned with appearances ("watch your language!") while understanding the hard truths, and Henson steals every scene with a hysterically sassy, sexy turn that's underscored with steely emotion.

As the plot continues into the '70s and early '80s, it gets slightly distracted by show-bizz glamour, which Petey handles by drinking himself into oblivion. This intriguingly highlights the diverging goals of these two men, but on screen feels a little meandering and unfocussed. It also lacks the raw urgency and relevance of the earlier segments centring on civil rights and a badly divided society. But with acting this good, we don't really mind.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 1.Aug.07

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2007 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall