Opening 7 Feb 2008
Dewey Hughes (Chiwetel Ejiofor) visits his brother Milo in prison. There he has a confrontation with another convict, or “miscreant” as Hughes calls them, namely, Ralph Waldo Petey Greene (Don Cheadle). Greene is serving time for drugs and armed robbery; he is also the prison’s radio DJ. Dewey is manager at WOL radio, so obviously, they are destined to meet. “I need you to say the things I’m afraid to say, and you need me to do the things you’re afraid to do,” says Greene. Upon release from prison, he becomes the radio’s most successful commentator due to his loud-mouthed, biting opinions on social conditions in the Washington D.C. area, especially when they concern African-Americans. At the death of Martin Luther King, the whole city explodes in flames and looting. Radio WOL, with Greene, broadcasts throughout the night, directing the people off the streets and home to bed, thus preventing a worse situation. With Dewey Hughes as manager, Petey Greene seems destined for national fame: talk shows with Johnny Carson, television, movies. Insecure, he is unable to meet everyone’s ambitious expectations. Just as his star is rising, he falls back into old habits, drink/drugs, outlandish behavior, and finally death at age 53.
This is based on the true story of Petey Greene, who was all of the above as well as an activist and Korean War veteran. Don Cheadle exudes charisma in this role, dressed in flashy clothes and accompanied by a very hot, flamboyant girlfriend with a motor mouth of her own named Vernell (the wonderful Tajaji P. Henson). The music from the ‘60s by Sam Cooke and Otis Redding, to name just two, helps set the scene. There are flippant remarks about Berry Gordy of Motown and former president Lyndon Johnson. Emotions run high in this film by Kasi Lemmons, and I cried when King died in the film – although I never shed a tear over him in real life. More than 8000 mourners attended the funeral of the real Petey Greene in 1984 because they felt personally touched by him. This good movie personally touched me, which I truly was not expecting when I walked into the cinema. (Becky Tan)