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'Talk to Me'

Radio personalities known for being outrageous are everywhere these days — Howard Stern, Don Imus — but in the '60s, WOL-AM in Washington, D.C., was taking a chance when it hired ex-convict Petey Greene to host its morning show.

Greene would spend more than a decade startling the D.C. establishment, and actor Don Cheadle and director Kasi Lemmons have fun making him freshly outrageous. Then, just as slapstick's veering toward farce, a real-life tragedy shatters the world of the film: the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. 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, the film gains considerable resonance.

At which point it may occur to you that it has, from its beginning, been about relationships — especially the friendship that develops between this outspoken ex-con and the straitlaced company man (Chiwetel Ejiofor) who gave him a place to use his voice. Greene's later career would be largely anticlimactic, a fact echoed in the film, which also becomes less vital in its final reel. But in its wrenching shift from farce to tragedy, and in its evocation of the bridge offered by friendship, the film tells it like Petey Green would have.

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Bob Mondello, who jokes that he was a jinx at the beginning of his critical career — hired to write for every small paper that ever folded in Washington, just as it was about to collapse — saw that jinx broken in 1984 when he came to NPR.