Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000 to 2009.
A radio drama of flamboyance, fury and finesse, Kasi Lemmons’ Talk to Me cranked the funk on a sister station to Talk Radio and Good Morning Vietnam.
Like Vietnam, this 2007 film wasn’t merely a brash fish-out-of-water comedy about a profane DJ whose powder-keg personality brought him popularity. It comically, truthfully and tragically evoked the Black experience in the 1960s.
At its center is a performance of impeccable clarity and cut from Don Cheadle as Petey Greene — an ex-con who eventually lands a morning slot on Washington, D.C.’s floundering R&B station WOL.
Conformity is as confining to Petey as a correctional facility, so producer Dewey Hughes (Chiwetel Ejiofor) counts on him to bend radio’s constraints to his will and send Dewey’s personal stock and the station’s ratings soaring.
Talk escalates Dewey and Petey’s test of wills — Ejiofor instigates a killer pool-hall hustle — while showcasing their symbiotic relationship and its parasitic good and bad.
It also easily shifts from farcical misunderstandings to moving social tragedy that, as is tragedy’s method, places personal quarrels into perspective. After Martin Luther King’s assassination, Talk explores what celebrity can achieve at a time of crisis and how a community sought Greene’s voice as a form of solidarity-fist therapy.
Once Petey fears he’s being paraded for profit and Dewey’s greed contorts their friendship, fame’s dark side also rears its head.
Their eventual, fabricated reconciliation reeks of Lifetime, so there’s not exactly no signifyin’, as Petey would say. But there’s precious little in this lively, sterling biopic.