Monday, August 20, 2007

Talk to Me

Don Cheadle gives an Oscar worthy performance in this biopic about famed radio personality Petey Greene. The movie follows Greene from his time as a disc jockey in prison, to his hiring at WOL-AM in Washington DC. From there he took his gift of "telling it like it is," and became the voice of the people. His thrust to stardom, however, cost him his health, and his relationships- especially with his close friend and manager- Dewey Hughes (Chiwetel Ejifor who also delivers a performance the academy would do well to take note of).

The movie is divided essentially into three parts. The first act is Greene's struggle to win over Hughes, and the two of them trying to get Greene on the radio. This involves them having pacify the owner of the station, Martin Sheen. This section ends with him almost single handedly turning the station from an out-of-date relic into a relevant voice of the African American community. Unfortunately, Hughes won't let Greene's fame stop there, and helps him burst onto the national scene. This leads Greene down a road to self-destruction, and the destruction of their relationship.

Greene took over the role of WOL's morning DJ in the late sixties, a time when the city was a powder keg of racial tension. This came to a head on April 4th 1968, with the assassination of Martin Luther King. Washington literally exploded into riots, and in what I considered the climax of the movie, Greene spent the night on the radio listening and talking to people, trying to diffuse the situation. He played a major role in pacifying the city, and cemented his importance.

Taraji Henson also deserves being noted in her role as Vernell Watson, Greene's girlfriend. She plays the role so comically over the top, that you can't help but love the character. Even Cedric the Entertainer, who I normally don't care for, does a fine job in is turn as "Nighthawk" Bob Terry, another DJ at WOL.

There is an inherent problem with biopics, however. Usually, the story that the person is famous for runs out long before the end of the person's life. This was indeed the case for Petey Greene. He fell out of the spotlight after his infamous Johnny Carson appearance. This happened a good ten years before his death, but Kasi Lemmons (who also directed the wonderful Caveman's Valentine) spent over 15 minutes on this resolution. That's a tough call, because it's almost a requirement for a posthumous biopic to have content all the way to the end. This results in the movie dragging towards the end- a very common affliction for biographical movies.

This is a fine movie, telling the story of a highly over-looked, but very important cultural figure. It dragged on a little bit too long, but the acting more than compensates for this. Don't be surprised if you see this movie up for several nominations.

Watch the Trailer


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