TALK TO ME - HD DVD review

Cheadle's performance is well worth the price of this HD-DVD.


Don Cheadle is an actor I admire very much. There are so many great performances from Cheadle that I have a difficult time deciding which ones I enjoy the most. He was incredible in "Boogie Nights" and "Devil in a Blue Dress." "Traffic," "Out of Sight" and the "Ocean's Eleven" films are all fine films to watch this talented actor. Recently, Cheadle has taken time out to film a few biographical films about influential black men. He was incredible in "Hotel Rwanda" as hotel owner Paul Rusesabagina and now in "Talk to Me" as radio personality Ralph Waldo Emerson "Petey" Greene, Jr. In two more years, he will portray Toussaint Louverture in "Toussaint." I look forward to that film.

Keeping with the present, Cheadle is perfect as Petey Greene. I managed to find some old footage of Greene from his Washington D.C. television show and discovered just how close Cheadle was to the man he portrayed. His vocal behaviors and mannerisms are mimicked exactly by Cheadle. There is sometimes that one role that is perfectly suited to a particular actor and Petey Greene was a man destined to be brought to the screen by Don Cheadle. If he does not get some award recognition for his performance, then a huge injustice will be served to both Don Cheadle and the memory of Petey Greene. I haven't seen a lot of films this year where a performance particularly stood out, but this one is an exception to the norm.

Petey Greene is a lifelong thief who finds himself in prison. Once in prison, his good behavior allows him to make the prison PA announcements. Eventually, he is given the ability to run a prison based radio program through the public announcement system of the prison and directly because of his work ethic and good behavior. He becomes a voice of the prisoners and they are greatly entertained by Petey's ‘tell it like it is' style. One prisoner, Miko Hughes (Mike Epps) is moved by Petey's words and tells his brother Dewey Hughes (Chiwetel Ejiofor) all about the prison disc jockey. Dewey works for the successful Washington D.C. AM radio station WOL 1450 and Petey is hoping that Dewey will be a source for a job as a DJ when he serves his time and is freed from prison.

One day, Petey is freed from prison. He had talked an inmate into climbing a prison structure and threatening suicide. The warden asks Petey to talk the man down and is rewarded for his efforts. It took Petey three minutes to talk him down, but six months to get him to climb up. Once freed, Petey seeks out Dewey and travels to the radio station with his girlfriend Vernell Watson (Taraji P. Henson). Vernell wants to meet WOL's top DJ, ‘Nighthawk' Bob Terry (Cedric the Entertainer) and makes a scene from the moment they enter the radio station. Petey demands to talk to the boss, but instead of facing Dewey, he is introduced to the station's head man, E.G. Sonderling (Martin Sheen). Eventually, Petey comes face-to-face with Dewey and claims he was promised a job, but is asked to leave and does so unemployed.

It takes some time, but Petey is resilient and goes to great lengths to earn a job from Dewey. It took a lesson in humility for Petey to finally earn his spot at WOL and Dewey is hesitant to offer Petey the job, but realizes that the radio station needs to keep an edge as the ‘Station of the People' to remain on top of the D.C. airwaves. Petey is given the morning drive timeslot against the wishes of Sonderling and the resident DJ of the time, Ronnie Simmons (Sean MacMahon). Petey is thrown out of the station after a few minutes on the air for insulting the Motown head and making other comments that Sonderling deemed greatly inappropriate. Dewey is demoted.

Dewey overhears some men talking at a local bar about Petey Greene and the comments he made. At this point, Dewey realizes that Petey is a man who can appeal to the masses and it is his conveyance of the truth that has won over the people. Dewey and Petey concoct a plan to get him back in the studio and this requires locking Sonderling and others into their offices. When the phones start to ring off the hook, Sonderling agrees to let Petey keep his job and the disc jockey pushes FCC regulations, but propels WOL to the top for his timeslot. He is a tremendous overnight success.

As more and more success comes Petey's way, Dewey decides to become his manager and expand Petey's market. Petey finds himself doing stand-up comedy and recording records. He finds himself moving from his beloved radio to having his own television show. Petey continues to succeed because he tells it like it is and the people admire him for his stark and honest opinions and views. When Martin Luther King, Jr. is shot, Petey takes to the airwaves and helps calm the rioters that have set Washington D.C. on fire. A drunken Petey later takes the stage to introduce James Brown to the angry masses. Petey has become a massive success and earned a spot on Johnny Carson.

Petey only wanted to be on radio and he becomes further and further disenchanted with the management of Dewey. Dewey is like a brother to him, but the continued distance from WOL has only caused Petey to be angry with Dewey and when the radio personality finally appears on Carson, the results are disastrous. In just a few minutes, the empire of Petey Greene comes tumbling down. He fires Dewey and disappears into a stupor of alcohol. Vernell leaves him until he is sober and many years pass until he rekindles a friendship with Dewey; who eventually becomes a top radio personality by providing his own voice after learning from Petey.

"Talk to Me" is a biographical film. It is a highly entertaining picture that succeeds because of its important and interesting story and the strength of its actors. Don Cheadle is an amazing actor, but he is not the only person in this film. British actor Chiwetel Ejiofor is very good as Dewey. After seeing him in "Amistad" and "American Gangster" over the past couple of months, Ejiofor's role as a Caucasian acting black man is done well. Taraji Henson's character is annoying, but her performance is commendable. Cedric the Entertainer and Martin Sheen are also very good in their respective roles. Other supporting cast handle their roles expertly and even without Cheadle, this is a well-acted film.

This is one of those important stories that need to be told. At the time of Petey Greene, racial tensions wee extremely high. The acceptance of blacks was just starting to improve when the murder of King occurred. It was a horribly sad day for our nation and Petey Greene had an important role in quelling the angry rioters. He was the voice of African Americans that asked for peace and equality at a time when they needed a voice. He spoke for everyman and he was as honest in his views and words as any man could have been. This film takes a surface look at his rise and fall, but "Talk to Me" is a fine look at a man who helped change both radio and racial relations.

Director Kasi Lemmons has spent far more time in front of the camera than behind it, but "Talk to Me" is a nice follow-up to her previous films "Eve's Bayou" and "The Caveman's Valentine." The Seventies was a colorful and diverse era in our nation's history. Part of the allure of "Talk to Me" is the expert manner in which Lemmons and her team of filmmakers has captured the essence of the Seventies. The music chosen is superb. Costumes and sets should bring back fond memories to viewers who lived through the days of Petey Greene. She mixes history and entertainment very nicely and this is one of those rare biographical films that is never dull. "Talk to Me" is well acted and it is a story that is masterfully told. This is a film I highly recommend.


The VC-1 encoded 2.35:1 film "Talk to Me" looks clean on HD-DVD, but the work done by director of photography Stephane Fontaine and director Kasi Lemmons has resulted in a very soft looking film that pays homage to the films of the Seventies, but doesn't necessarily translate to a strong looking HD-DVD release. Colors are strong and vibrant and there is a wealth of orange hues present in this film, as well as meddlesome reds. The transfer does a strong job with these bright colors and the remaining colors of the rainbow, which are all nicely saturated. Detail is adequate, but the intentional soft look of the film allows it to look only marginally better than a DVD release. Darker scenes show off good black levels, but shadow detail was slightly weak; perhaps due to the soft filtering. This was a very clean transfer that didn't show any digital flaws or faults from the print. I was satisfied with the look of "Talk to Me," but this is an HD-DVD title that isn't going to impress many people.


The selectable sound options for "Talk to Me" are English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 and English Dolby Digital Plus 5.1. The only foreign language support are through French subtitles. English SDH subtitles are also provided. "Talk to Me" is a film without a lot of sound design that translates to a great surround experience. Vocals are clear and strong and you will never miss a word of Cheadle's incredible performance. Music sounds very good and I loved hearing the various Motown tunes. The scene where James Brown performs his free concert was disappointing, as the sound was flat and not very engaging. "Talk to Me" didn't benefit much from the TrueHD soundtrack, as the limited sound design kept most of the sound information n the front channels. The next-gen track was slightly stronger than the Dolby Digital Plus mix, but with its limited surround usage and low presence in the .1 LFE channel, this is not a very impressive sounding film.


"Talk to Me" contains three supplements that run for roughly thirty minutes. A collection of six Deleted Scenes (8:33) are provided in a lump sum. Some of the bonus minutes are simply extended sequences, while others are minor character building moments. One particular moment where Martin Sheen's character deals with the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. should have been left in the film as it made the scene far more meaningful. The promotional Who is Petey Greene? (10:13) spends far more time pushing the film and its story than it does looking at who the real Petey Greene was. This short vignette did touch on the real story some, but this was far more fluff than it was deep. The third and final supplement, Recreating P-Town (11:07) talks briefly about bringing the Seventies back to life with the outfits and styles of the decade. The filmmakers went to great lengths to bring back black culture from thirty years ago and this was a nice look at what was done. Sadly, a real documentary on the real Petey Greene would have been a great addition.

Closing Comments:

I absolutely loved the performance of Don Cheadle in this film. He is one of today's finest actors and it is great to see the actor fill a role that was seemed to be meant for him. He was perfect as disc jockey Petey Greene. The rest of the cast did a fine job as well acting beside the gifted Cheadle. The story is very good and did what many biographies have failed to do; it held my interest. The film is a ten-thousand foot view of Greene's life and doesn't go into too many details about one particular thing, but it gives a very nice overview of the man and what he accomplished. The HD-DVD has less than impressive sound and visuals and the supplements are underwhelming. Don Cheadle and Petey Greene definitely deserved a little more than this. This is a passable release for an excellent film. Regardless, Cheadle's performance is well worth the price of this HD-DVD.


Film Value