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FOCUSfilm Entertainment presents
"I'll tell it to the hot, I'll tell it to the cold. I'll tell it to the young, I'll tell it to the old. I don't want no laughin', I don't want no cryin', and most of all, no signifyin'. This is Petey Greene's Washington."
DVD ReviewWe're currently immersed in the awards season, where critics and other experts choose their favorite movies and performances from the past year. A forgotten gem within this discussion is Kasi Lemmons' Talk to Me—a moving, energetic film depicting the rise of D.C. radio and TV star Ralph Waldo "Petey" Greene (Don Cheadle). The story begins with Petey in jail and serving as the charismatic DJ at Lorton Reformatory. After using his charisma to help reduce his sentence, he tries to catch a break in the world of commercial radio. His opportunity comes through a chance meeting with Dewey Hughes (Chiwetel Ejiofor), who wants little to do with him at first. Hughes works at WOL, a calm AM station playing old-style soul and losing its hold on the youth market. Petey’s fresh outlook gives Dewey a chance to make his mark and increase WOL’s audience.
Don Cheadle has proven his diverse talents with memorable turns in wide-ranging films including Hotel Rwanda, Out of Sight and Crash. His sedate persona might not appear to make him the best choice to play Petey, but Cheadle delivers a confident, exciting performance. The film's pivotal moment involves the Martin Luther King assassination, which led to angry riots in the streets. Petey taking to the airwaves afterwards is some of the finest work in Cheadle’s career. It's also intriguing to see his progression from a bumbling host to a finely tuned machine. Cheadle could easily have taken his performance way over the top, but he maintains the believable side of the magnetic DJ. Equally formidable is Ejiofor (Children of Men, Serenity), who plays a rising professional trying to succeed in the world of white producers. Dewey initially appears to be totally immersed in the mainstream culture, but he retains memories of his difficult youth. Ejiofor is so good that he nearly hijacks the picture from Cheadle and makes his story equally riveting. Their relationship's development and eventual difficulties take this picture beyond the standard biopic.
The most effective aspect of Kasi Lemmons' (Eve’s Bayou) direction is the authentic feeling of the entire production. The locations, costumes and overall atmosphere stay rooted in the 1970s and make Petey's journey believable. A highlight is the free James Brown concert that immediately follows the Martin Luther King riots. The images look as if they were transported from the '70s and don’t resemble the sloppy recreations of many historical movies. This genuine environment increases the success of the energetic first hour, which delivers consistent enjoyment as Petey becomes a star. It's hard to take your eyes off both Cheadle and Ejiofor. Additionally, solid performers like Cedric the Entertainer, Vondie Curtis-Hall and Martin Sheen offer first-rate support to the lead actors.
Talk to Me shines when presenting Petey's beginnings on radio and his rise to prominence, but it falters a bit during its final act. The fault shouldn't rest entirely with Lemmons and screenwriters Michael Genet and Rick Famuyiwa, however. As Petey grows irritated with his career progression, the life seeps out of his performances, and affects the film in the same way. The plot structure grows a bit jumbled during the conclusion and lacks the power of the early sequences. One other issue is with the Vernell Watson character, played by Taraji P. Henson with her typical energy. Petey's girl remains present during the later scenes, but her role becomes less clear. These are minor concerns, however, as the overall picture remains effective. Cheadle and Ejiofor's chemistry and top-notch performances earn this film a strong recommendation.
Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: A-
Image Transfer Review: Washington, D.C. in the 1970s is depicted believably in Talk to Me's 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. The colors are sharp and help to deliver the energetic atmosphere of Petey's surge to fame. There is some minor grain on the picture, but it mostly helps to create a historical feeling of observing a bygone era.
Image Transfer Grade: B+
Audio Transfer Review: The numerous soul and R&B hits from renowned artists like James Brown and Sam Cooke leap from the speakers of the 5.1-channel Dolby Digital transfer. The melodic audio provides an excellent backdrop for Petey and Dewey's story and moves smoothly throughout the sound field.
Audio Transfer Grade: A-
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 20 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring Reservation Road, Balls of Fury
6 Deleted Scenes
Extras Review: Talk to Me includes a disappointingly small collection of extras that give worthy background within a brief running time. Who Is Petey Greene offers a 10-minute collection of interviews and clips that contains a few good insights but too much fluff. The main negative is too much footage from the picture that doesn’t relate directly to the cast and crew's comments. Kasi Lemmons does provide some intriguing comments about Dewey that make this an interesting piece. Recreating P-Town is more engaging with its look at re-creating '70s D.C. This 11-minute featurette includes comments from production designer Gersha Phillips and other crew members that depict the complex design process. They quickly discuss the film’s key events like Petey's appearance on The Tonight Show appearance and the James Brown concert. The only other supplement is eight minutes of deleted scenes that are mostly throwaways. The most notable moments involve the dress rehearsal for the last-night show and Petey's speech at Walt Whitman High School.
Extras Grade: C+
Final CommentsTalk to Me did receive a few Independent Spirit and Satellite award nominations, but it's generally been eliminated from the conversation. It may not be the year's best film, but impressive performances and an engaging script lead to good entertainment. If you missed seeing Petey Greene's story in the theaters, I recommend giving it a second chance on DVD.
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