DVD Release Date:  October 30, 2007
Theatrical Release Date:  July 13, 2007 (limited)
Rating: R (for language and sexually explicit content)
Genre:  Drama, Biopic
Run Time: 118 min.
Director:  Kasi Lemmons
Actors:  Don Cheadle, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Taraii P. Henson, Martin Sheen, and Cedric the Entertainer

Talk to Me hearkens back to the days when radio disc jockeys served as credible sources of political and regional information—as well as pivotal mouthpieces for various causes and groups.  One of the most memorable DJ’s was Washington D.C.’s “Petey” Greene, Jr. (Don Cheadle).

Imprisoned in the ‘60s for armed robbery, Greene tried his hand at spinning records in the Lorton Prison work program and quickly found that he had quite a following—and an ability to encourage, relate to, and rally an audience.  Regrettably for those of us who enjoy a good historical drama, however, Petey also had a problem of incessant foul language, which now clouds an otherwise real and relatable character study.

The films begins with Petey wrangling an early release by talking a crazed inmate out of committing suicide. (Little does the warden know that Petey was the one who convinced the guy to put on the charade in the first place) and—after a strange and hilarious meeting with WOL Radio program director Dewey Hughes (Chiwetel Ejiofor)—talks his way into a one-time spot as a guest DJ. Having spent much of his life behind bars, tuning in to the cries and concerns of the city’s black population, Petey does his shtick so well and gets so many callers that he quickly convinces the uptight station manager E.G. Sonderling (Martin Sheen) to give him a chance as the regular morning DJ.

Greene becomes an instant favorite in D.C., touting his political positions and rallying the community to action on various issues.  He calms an entire city after Martin Luther King, Jr. is assassinated in 1968, inviting everyone to turn their anger into unity at a free James Brown concert.  Green and Hughes are still credited with curtailing the escalating violence and bloodshed in the nation’s capitol.

Talk to Me is a poignant look at a highly influential, but unlikely leader during a turbulent time in our nation’s history.  It’s an in-your-face portrait of how difficult it is to rise above poverty, crime, and bigotry, and it’s a sober reminder that every group needs to rally around strong leaders who are gut-level honest.

The movie is effective in its portrayal of Greene’s rocky partnership with Hughes and his even rockier love/hate relationship with his girlfriend Vernell Watson (Taraji P. Henson).

It’s a fascinating time in history, studying a memorable character who, though he was a convict, held so strongly to his ideal of speaking honestly that he was even willing to royally flop on The Tonight Show and disappoint his friends in order to keep his integrity. 

Like Hotel Rwanda and Crash, in which Don Cheadle also starred, Talk to Me is a film that movingly expresses the cries of the poor and underserved, the minorities, the forgotten.  And in this capacity, it wins.  It’s also fun to see the old footage of the ‘60s with its war protesters, presidential speeches, speeches by MLK, and even clips of The Tonight Show

Sadly, however, director Kasi Lemmons so wants audiences to take an honest look at history and human flaws that we are subjected to a constant barrage of offensive language.  I am truly not one to focus on the counting of cuss words, but this time I really did it, and I cringe to report that, including all the “N” words, there’s a record (for me, with seven years as a reviewer) 160 obscenities and profanities.  There’s also a scene where Petey gets hit over the head with a broken bottle as he’s cheating and having sex with another woman.  It’s just too much.

Though Petey’s slogan is “Keep it real,” Sonderling’s is “Watch that language!” Audiences might be wishing someone had listened to the latter plea.  Many critics, even in faith-based circles, are crying for “realness” in movies (rather than Christian platitudes and easy fixes), but I’m hoping the pendulum is allowed to swing back to the middle a bit with portrayals of realness that don’t also barrage the gray matter with clutter (sex, violence, language, nudity) that’s hard to erase.  To all filmmakers: “Real” doesn’t always have to be the ugly and the base; it can also be “whatever is good, lovely, and praiseworthy.”  Fortunately, there are several box office choices right now that fall into the latter category, and families can decide just how real and raw they want to go!

AUDIENCE:  Adults only

CAUTIONS:

  • Drugs/Alcohol: Beer and liquor depicted frequently.
  • Language: Approximately 160 obscenities and profanities.
  • Sex/Nudity: Man and woman have sex in a bed; man is hit over head with broken bottle during sex. Rear male nudity and scantily-clad women portrayed.
  • Violence: Riots after MLK assassination portrayed.
  • Worldview: “Real” is god, and “real” is the base, the negative, the sad, rather than the “lovely and praiseworthy.”