Don Cheadle has proved time and again that he's an actor of many faces. The only common denominator between his work in "Devil in a Blue Dress," "Boogie Nights," "Ocean's Eleven" and "Hotel Rwanda" is his quicksilver talent. The beauty of his performance in "Talk to Me," playing the streetwise, flamboyantly cocky yet deeply insecure radio DJ Petey Greene, is how many faces he can locate in this one man—often in the same moment. It's a sensational turn, unlike anything he's done.
Greene was an ex-con who became a radio icon in Washington, D.C., in the late '60s with his profane, tell-it-like-it-is braggadocio. When the city exploded in the aftermath of Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination, it was Greene's wise on-air improvisations that helped keep the rage in check. Brilliant, alcoholic and self-destructive, Greene is the fascinating subject of Kasi Lemmons's funky, R&B-driven biopic—a vital entertainment that struts confidently between comedy and drama.
The equally versatile Chiwetel Ejiofor plays Greene's buttoned-down mentor and manager, Dewey Hughes. The movie starts to click once Hughes ceases playing uptight straight man and reveals himself to be a character of equal complexity, a deeply ambitious man who pushes Greene onto a national stage he's too terrified to handle. Hughes's son, Michael Genet, co-wrote the script with Rick Famuyiwa, and it has a few clunky, overly broad passages. But Lemmons, best known for "Eve's Bayou," reveals herself to be a generous director with a real feel for the high, heady '60s and a contagious affection for her damaged, angry, lovable hustler hero.