WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
In 1960s Washington DC and when young radio executive Dewey Hughes (Chiwetel Ejiofor) visits his brother in prison, he hears the jail DJ, mouthy Petey Greene (Don Cheadle) and tells him to “look him up” when he gets out.
After his release, not wanting to let an opportunity escape him, Petey dons his loudest suit and straps his even more mouthy girl to his arm and turns up at the radio station, demanding a show of his own.
While Dewey tries to explain there’s been a misunderstanding, the station’s owner, Sonderling (Martin Sheen) is more forceful in making it quite clear to Petey that he’ll never grace his airwaves.
After leading a series of protests outside the radio station, Petey manages to talk himself into the breakfast-show seat and becomes a sensation with his “tell it like it is” attitude.
Before long, he’s the station’s leading personality and when Martin Luther King is assassinated, it’s Petey who steps up to the plate and unites blacks and whites and becomes the voice of America.
The inevitable next move is into television, but the higher he rises and the further he gets from his roots, the harder he finds it to stay in his comfort zone.
WHAT’S IT LIKE?
This film effectively conjures up the spirit of 60s America, while telling the story of an individual who rose from a prison cell to become one of the most influential figures in the US media.
It’s just a shame that none of those involved in the film appear to have worked in the media themselves. As someone whose mortgage is paid for by network radio, I can tell you that the portrayal of this radio station is about as realistic as Frasier Crane’s, but it’s not about the technicalities – it’s about the relationships and the performances which go to bring them to life.
Don Cheadle’s motormouth rides impressively up and down Petey Greene’s roller-coaster of a career, while fresh off the back of his strong supporting role in American Gangster, Britain’s Chiwetel Ejiofor is a perfect foil – pushing and pulling him all the way, and being emotionally punished for his dedication.
But there are no real surprises as the plot unravels, following the same path as all too many other unlikely rags-to-riches tales.
The strength of the two central performances, with an array of pleasing, if clichéd supporting turns can’t lift this story off the screen – giving us riot scenes isn’t enough to take this out of TV movie territory.
Perhaps to an American audience, more familiar with Petey Greene’s legacy, the film will have more resonance. But sadly, it didn’t really “talk to me.”