First of all I need to say that I think Don Cheadle and Chiwetel Ejiofor are two of the best actors working today. Cheadle, the more famous of the two, was recently nominated for an Academy Award for his work in Hotel Rwanda and Ejiofor can do everything from playing the cross dressing muse for a shoe designer in Kinky Boots to being the bad guy in one of last year’s best films, Children of Men. So it is with some sadness that I have to report that neither actor’s talent is supported in the new film Talk to Me.
Not that they’re helped by the script, which never misses an opportunity to insert a cliché where a meaningful scene should have been, or the direction, which strives to be big and important, but settles for merely adequate.
Even the title is average. A quick check on IMBD reveals that no fewer than 11 exact matches for the title, most of which date from the last six or seven years.
The troubling thing about Talk to Me is that I’m sure it didn’t have to be this way. There is a good story in the life and hard times of Ralph ‘Petey’ Greene, the ex-convict turned popular 1960s Washington D.C. radio personality and community activist, this just isn’t it.
As directed by Kasi Lemmons, a veteran actress of television shows like Walker, Texas Ranger and Murder She Wrote, and director of the fine Eve’s Bayou, the story is boiled down to a series of cliché ridden vignettes which never fail to telegraph where the story is headed.
The movie does manage to create a fairly convincing portrait of a time of social change in America, but that is thanks to Cheadle and Ejiofor rather than the script. In the film’s best handled sequence, the announcement of the death of Martin Luther King, it’s Cheadle’s performance and not the script that packs a punch.
Occasionally a strong performance can elevate a so-so film. The Last King of Scotland, for example, is an average movie made better by the central performance of Forest Whittaker. Unfortunately, as hard as Cheadle and Ejiofor try the problems with Talk to Me are insurmountable.