Talk to Me (2007)
Starring: Don Cheadle, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Taraji P. Henson, Martin Sheen, Cedric the Entertainer, Mike Epps, Vondie Curtis-Hall
Directed by: Kasi Lemmons
When deciding which movies I’m interested in seeing, who’s starring in it isn’t of top concern (unless it’s a performer who can only negatively influence a movie, then his or her presence will keep me away from a movie). My decision making is generally influenced in this order: 1) the director, 2) the story, 3) critical reception, 4) overall cast, 5) specific star or stars. In the case of Talk to Me, I made an exception and skipped all the way down to number five. I didn’t know much about director Kasi Lemmons, the story sounded somewhat interesting, but not especially so, the reviews were fairly blasé, and after the two stars, the cast is rather non-descript.
However, I think Don Cheadle and Chiwetel Ejiofor are two of the best and most underrated actors working today, so I figured if they decided to team up to make this movie, there must’ve been a good reason. Both have the ability to make whatever movie they’re in better just from their contribution, so together, they had to make this biopic worth watching, right?
Well, yes… and no. Cheadle and Ejiofor’s performances are the highlights of the movie, particularly Cheadle’s charismatic leading turn as 1960s Washington DC radio host Ralph Walden “Petey” Greene. Cheadle’s energy makes the first half of the movie fairly entertaining, with his chemistry with Ejiofor’s Dewey Hughes the best part of the film. It’s too bad that their performances are contained in yet another standard-fare biopic that overall serves as an exercise in banality.
The movie tells the story of Greene, an ex-con who becomes a popular radio host and eventual civil rights activist. The movie spans his life from his time in prison in 1965 through his time on the radio and television until his death in 1984, detailing his friendship with producer Dewey Hughes.
Unfortunately, what could be a different take on the civil rights movement and a look at a prominent African American cultural figure, the type that generally goes ignored by history, ends up being the same old rise, fall, and redemption biopic we’ve seen time and time again, this time with a really great soul soundtrack. Cheadle and Ejiofor are game, but Lemmons direction is completely uninspiring, resulting in a film that lasts about half an hour too long, feeling like a vanity project for executive producer Cheadle.
It’s certainly not a terrible project, the performances are too strong for that, and the civil rights theme gives it a touch of resonance. It wasn’t a waste of my time, but I can’t exactly recommend anyone else donating their time to a story we’ve all seen before, with only the names and places changing.