Friday, July 27, 2007

Talk to Me

To tell the truth I didn’t know who Petey Green was before walking into this film. The radio and television personality, the comedian, the ex-con, the activist, and the entertainer, is the focus of this new film by screenwriters Michael Genet and Rick Famuyiwa as told by director Kasi Lemmons. It’s an interesting tale that’s given life by some of the best working actors around today.

Petey Greene (Don Cheadle) is a con artist and a convict. Dewey Hughes (Chiwetel Ejiofor) works for the local Washington D.C. radio station WOL. Through a chance meeting as Dewey visits his brother (Mike Epps) in jail a long, and often tumultous, friendship develops between the pair which lands Petey an opportunity as a disk jockey.

Martin Sheen provides a nice supporting performance as the radio station’s manager who is less than thrilled with putting a malcontent ex-con who speaks his mind on the air. Dewey’s gamble pays off however and Petey provides the voice the station and its listeners have been waiting for.

The film is bursting with great performances. Aside from the two leads, who will knock your socks off, and the nice turn by Sheen, the film also features Taraji P. Henson as Petey’s girlfriend and Cedric the Entertainer in a humorous and subdued performance as the Nighthawk. All are terrific.

If the film has a fault it’s that it bites off more than it can chew. As often is the case with biopics, directors and writers get caught up trying to tell the whole story and miss their opportunity to focus on the important parts of the tale in detail. The film follows Dewey and Petey from their first meeting through their ups and downs to their final farewell years later. Although the performance make even some of the slower moments entertaining, the script could have used a little polish.

The other comment I would make isn’t exactly a complaint but a quibble. Although the film portrays the characters and the situations with skill, and provides an examination to why Petey was important in this place and time (the Martin Luther King Jr. scene alone is amazing) the film never really discusses or alludes to the lasting impact of Petey Greene. Yes he was important and burned hot and fast before flaming out all too soon, but does his story and his work provide any lasting message? I would have preferred the film to have tried to put Petey’s life into a historical context, which it never seems to get around to doing.

Even if you hate the story (which I doubt will happen) the performances alone deserve to be seen. Ejiofor and Cheadle work together so well it will be interesting to see if either earns an Oscar nod and Henderson, as she has done in past films like Hustle & Flow, proves more than capable of keeping up with her talented lead actors. Here’s a film with something to show, and something to say. Why don’t you go out and give it a chance to talk to you.

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