Talk to Me (Lemmons, 2007)

January 28, 2009

Please, somebody give Don Cheadle an Oscar already. This blatant attempt at false modesty needs to come to an end before someone gets hurt. His ability to transform himself for every role (no matter how minimal) is astonishing but he continually gets snubbed. Why is that? We know that the academy isn’t racist despite their inconsistent reputation at making bone-headed decisions and several actors of color have won in the past (even though they were questionable at best: Halle Berry for Monster’s Ball anyone?). 2004 was Cheadle’s year when he gave a tour-de-force performance in the political thriller Hotel Rwanda as Paul Rusesabagina and even though he was nominated, losing to Jaime Foxx was a travesty. Don’t get me wrong, I think Foxx proved himself to be taken seriously as an actor and while he was able to convincing portray Ray Charles down to a tee including his speech along with the various mannerisms, it lacked the control of Cheadle’s performance which felt more natural and less of a gimmick.

Don Cheadle returns this year in another biopic, this time as Ralph Waldo “Petey” Greene, African-American convict who decides to pursue a job as a radioman during the 60’s that influenced the medium by walking on a thin line between radio code of conduct and pragmatism without straying too far into blind-sided chauvinism. As an outspoken individual who gave no precedence to say the truth regardless of the crackdown on the freedom of speech for minority groups especially Blacks, Greene becomes a voice for the people, not only to the frustrated lower class African Americans (despite them being his largest fan-base) but to an entire nation that was at war with itself during the Civil Rights movement. His friendship with Dewey Hughes (Chiwetel Ejiofor), the man who puts his career on the line to get Petey the job at the radio station is the heart of the film; two men who are fond of one another but have different visions of what they want to achieve with their new found success. The wonderful chemistry between Ejiofor and Cheadle is palpatable and they both light up the screen as their brotherly love begins to disintegrate as ardent decisions are made and circumstances split them apart. The script is chalk-full of great dialogue and the two leads take full advantage of it. The clash of disparate personalities allows for plenty of humorous exchanges of dialogue that flow naturally. Don Cheadle loses himself completely in this role that is so authentic that it becomes difficult to distinguish the actor from the chracter he is playing. I’m thinking about starting a campaign on his behalf in order for the Acadmedy to recongize this performance because it is clearly deserving of high praise.

Biopics seem to be a dime a dozen these days. While Talk to Me follows the formulaic rise and fall of the central protagonist, newcomer female director Kasi Lemmons infuses a refreshing amount of charm and sophistication to elevate her film above the typical run-of the mill genre tropes. It becomes a powerful statement on the freedom of speech that doesn’t succumb to ramming the message down the viewer’s throats. As provocative as it is heartfelt, this is a groovy film told with honesty and not only is it an invigorating true story but also happens to be one of the best films of 2007.


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