MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

Radio personalities, who are known for being outrageous, are everywhere these days. But in the 1960s, WOL Radio in Washington, D.C. was taking a chance when it hired ex-convict Petey Greene to host its morning show. Greene is the subject of the new movie "Talk To Me" starring Don Cheadle and directed by Kasi Lemmons.

In a moment, we'll speak with the star and director, but first Bob Mondello has this review.

BOB MONDELLO: When program director Dewey Hughes brings an ex-convict to his radio station as a new DJ, he withholds the guy's identity until almost airtime. The station's owner is not pleased.

(Soundbite of movie "Talk To Me")

Mr. CHIWETEL EJIOFOR (Actor): (As Dewey Hughes) Sir, I know this is unorthodox.

Mr. MARTIN SHEEN (Actor): (As E.G. Sonderling) Unorthodox? It's insane.

Mr. EJIOFOR: (As Dewey Hughes) Sir, hear me out. This man has a unique voice. I just have a feeling…

Mr. SHEEN: (As E.G. Sonderling) I have much more than just a feeling.

Mr. EJIOFOR: (As Dewey Hughes) Sir, we need to put somebody on the air in the next two minutes or we go black.

Mr. DON CHEADLE (Actor): (As Petey Greene) Black, black, black.

MONDELLO: That last voice is Don Cheadle as Petey Greene who is enough of a loose cannon that once he's on the air, he gets himself fired almost immediately. But with the doors to the studio locked, Greene makes one last pitch to the listeners.

(Soundbite of movie "Talk To Me")

Mr. CHEADLE: (As Petey Greene) Give me a call. If you disagree, tell me like a man, even if you're a woman.

Unidentified Man: (Unintelligible). Open this door right now. Mr. Greene, sir, you are trespassing…

Mr. CHEADLE: (As Petey Greene) I'm tired of hearing fools complaining in barber chairs and beauty shops. Let your opinion out. Come on and give me a call at this station.

MONDELLO: That give-me-a-call pitch produces results - phone lines so jammed that station execs can't even call the police to try to remove Greene, and once they realized that, of course, they no longer want to. Greene would spend more than a decade at WOL, perpetually startling the D.C. establishment. And though his patter was tame by comparison with today's shock jocks, it sounds startling all over again coming from Don Cheadle.

(Soundbite of movie "Talk To Me")

Mr. CHEADLE: (As Petey Greene) You all see the paper this morning P-town? It says Petey Greene goes to the White House and steals some silverware. Now come on, that will make no damn sense. I ain't that crazy.

MONDELLO: Director Kasi Lemmons makes the early part of "Talk to Me" so funny that you'd swear the film was a flat-out comedy. But just as slapstick is veering toward farce, a real-life tragedy shatters the world of the film - the assassination of Martin Luther King, and the riots that followed, ravaging swaths of downtown D.C.

As Greene realizes that he has the credibility in the community to help quiet the violence, "Talk To Me" gains considerable resonance. At which point it will occur to you that the film has, from its beginning, been about relationships, especially the relationship that develops between this outspoken ex-con and the straitlaced company man played by Chiwetel Ejiofor who gave him a place to use his voice.

Petey Greene's later career would be largely anticlimactic. A fact that's echoed in the film, which also becomes less vital in its final reel. But in its wrenching shift from farce to tragedy and its evocation of the bridge offered by friendship, "Talk to Me" tells it, and keeps on telling it, much as Petey Greene would have.

I'm Bob Mondello.

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