Saturday, November 17, 2007

Talk To Me

I had seen Don Cheadle in a number of films without really noticing him before becoming completely entranced in Hotel Rwanda, and he keeps up the momentum he gained with that film here. He has an amazing level of versatility to himself, so much so that I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I didn’t even recognize him until I went to write this review.

As with Hotel Rwanda, here he again throws himself into the role of a real-life person, the legendary D.C. radio DJ Petey Greene, who rose to fame in the 60s after a chance encounter with WOL employee Dewey Hughes (Chiwetel Ejiofor, in another great performance, though not as flashy as his role in Serenity) while serving out a prison term. After pretty much conning his way into a job as a new morning show, he rises into becoming pretty much a radio legend before completely self-destructing.

One thing I really enjoyed about this film was in how it subverted the standard routine these biopics tend to move in. While he did have a big rise to fame, complete with the apparently required self-destructive behavior to accompany his newfound success (one particularly telling incident – when MLK Jr. is killed, he gives a powerful broadcast about it that leaves his audience and co-workers in tears and makes him an instant legend, and then immediately afterward he goes to introduce James Brown at a free concert in memory of King and shows up both late and piss-drunk), he never seemed to actually want success, openly preferring to remain small time, and his career doesn’t recover after his path of ruination reaches critical mass.

Another thing that works nice is that his friend/co-worker/eventual manager/enemy Dewey is just as important a character in the film as Petey is, and their interactions with each other really form the crux of the film. Each man seems to need the other to fulfill something lacking inside, and both end feeling somewhat disappointed in the other. That this film came and went through theaters without making a ripple is baffling to me. Something this powerful and intelligent should at least have made waves among critics if nobody else.

Rating: ****

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