Talk to Me (2008)
Director: Kasi Lemmons
Cast: Don Cheadle, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Martin Sheen
Plot: The story of Washington D.C. radio personality Ralph "Petey" Greene, an ex-con who became a popular talk show host and community activist in the 1960s.
Genre: Biography / Drama / History
Rating: M18 for pervasive language and some sexual content.
IN RETROSPECT (Spoilers: YES)
“I need you to say the things I can't say, and you need me to do the things you can't do.”
Kasi Lemmons is one filmmaker to look out for in the near future. Her newest motion picture, Talk to Me, is a convincing and weighty film that is both intellectual and entertaining. Lemmons, whose previous directorial efforts include the drama Eve’s Bayou (1997), displays extraordinary confidence in tackling themes that dwell mostly on race.
Talk to Me is set behind the backdrop of one of modern America’s bleakest moments: the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.. Behind the somber facade, Lemmons tells the story of Petey Greene, a black ex-convict who fought against all odds to become one of America’s most iconic and influential radio DJs ever.
Talk to Me stars Don Cheadle as Greene in a role that shows his natural acting ability in front of the camera. Cheadle, whose display in the drama Hotel Rwanda (2004) remains to be career-defining, carves out a heavy-accented, energetic, and slightly nonchalant performance that is deserving of a second Oscar nomination. He is so pitch-perfect that we see Greene on screen rather than Cheadle’s impersonation of Greene himself.
The supporting cast is very strong as well. Chiwetel Ejiofor is another to look out for; his often sparkling dialogue with Cheadle is what makes the movie tick. Martin Sheen’s underrated role as the no-nonsense boss of a radio station also lends a comical touch to the proceedings.
Lemmons does not shy away from the frequent use of racist terms such as ‘nigger’ and the incessant stereotyping of blacks by whites. The frankness of the script and the ease in which the dominant black cast of Cheadle and co. have executed it, is in a queer way a good barometer of the blacks’ increasing acceptance of their place in society.
The directing is superb; not for one moment does the film feel dull. Furthermore, the pacing is just right; it neither feels rushed nor slow. The emotional payoff at the end is high, especially in the scene when Ejiofor’s character reads the eulogy during Greene’s funeral.
Talk to Me is a slice of American history told through the eyes and voice of one of the most unique personalities of the nation at that time. This film is a contender for a respectable position in my annual top ten charts. Be cool, yo.
GRADE: A- (8.5/10 or 4 stars)
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