The story of Washington D.C. radio personality Ralph 'Petey" Greene (Don Cheadle), an ex-con who became a popular talk show host and community activist in the 1960s.
Don Cheadle has managed to forge a reputation as a consummate actor in films ranging from big budget twaddle (Swordfish, After The Sunset) to independent passion projects (Hotel Rwanda, Crash). Like his co-star in the Oceans films, George Clooney, Cheadle has a strong interest in social commentary and in making films 'that matter"; continuing in that vein, Talk To Me sees him taking on executive producer duties as well as the lead role. The film tells the story of Ralph Waldo Emerson 'Petey" Greene, an ex-con turned radio DJ and self-styled 'voice of the streets" in 1960s Washington DC.
Talk To Me opens with Greene in prison, where he spends his sentence as an uncensored and unrestrained DJ on the prison’s radio station. When radio producer Dewey Hughes (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is visiting his incarcerated brother, he encounters Greene by chance and tells him to look him up whenever he gets out. When he’s paroled, Greene heads straight for Washington DC’s most popular AM soul station, WOL. Greene is larger than life, and his high-octane bravado doesn’t exactly endear him to the station’s boss, E.G Sonderling (Martin Sheen), nor does it convince the cautious Dewey Hughes to risk his own position by giving Greene a chance. Hitting resistance at every turn, Greene doggedly persists and eventually prevails when Hughes gives him the chance to host his own show, Rapping With Petey Greene, where he spins discs for the predominantly black listeners. The response is unprecedented, and Greene is soon a hit.
By far Cheadle’s most forceful performance, his portrayal of Greene is easily one of the best he’s given. Greene is profane, arrogant and brutally honest, even at the expense of his own career. Yet despite the finely realised central character, the film is hindered by the simple fact that the script spends too much time showing us the bravado and hot air of Greene and not enough time showing us why he mattered to his audience and to his times. That said, the film’s closing moments do tend to labour its message, and it’s only when Cheadle plays Greene with rawness and honesty rather than bluster that it feels like we’re seeing the man’s core. Yet for all its flaws, it’s an engrossing piece of work and a history lesson well worth taking.