Director: Oliver Stone.
Screenplay: Eric Bogosian, Oliver Stone.
Starring: Eric Bogosian, Alec Baldwin, Leslie Hope, Ellen Greene, John C. McGinley, Michael Wincott, John Pankow, Robert Trebor, Linda Atkinson, Zach Grenier, Tony Frank, Harlan Jordan, Chip Moody.
“Sticks and stones can break your bones but words cause permanent damage”
It’s been difficult of late for director Oliver Stone to find a project that has the same spark or controversy of his earlier work. He was probably at his best back in the 1980’s when he wrote the screenplay for Brian DePalma’s Scarface and directed such visceral works as Salvador, the Oscar winning Platoon, Wall Street and Born on the Fourth of July. The one that seems to be least mentioned in his filmography at this time, though, is the sadly overlooked, Talk Radio; his adaptation of Eric Bogosian’s Pulitzer Prize nominated stage play.
Barry Champlain (Bogosian) is a late night ‘shock DJ’ who doesn’t mince his words when it comes to rebelling against the opinions of his many callers. Night after night he takes calls and the more he rebels, the more he finds that his abrasive statements and scathing personal opinions are nothing more than entertainment for a disillusioned American public.Maybe the reason this entry from Stone has been so overlooked is because it’s not as culturally or historically significant as his aforementioned films. He’s not trawling the war torn lands or jungles of El Salvador or Vietnam, nor even the frantic, greed-infused stock exchange. He’s primarily stuck in one room and primarily focused on one man – essentially making this a chamber piece. But, don’t be disheartened, this brings just as much drama with it’s intense and claustrophobic exchanges. As expected, in such a minimal setting, the film is very much dialogue driven and largely at the command of a ruthless Bogosian. Whenever he’s allowed to deliver his scathing rants and monologues (and there are many) the film has an energy and spark that makes for gleefully fraught entertainment.The callers add as much spice to the proceedings as Champlain though, and it gives Stone a chance to depict the dark underbelly of America. There are calls from psychotic white supremacists, lonely cat people, doped up Rock and Rollers and suicidal lovers. Champlain doesn’t pull his punches, though, he obnoxiously attacks and challenges these people for their contribution (or lack of) to society in general and even when their thoughts mirror the disturbed psychosis of society it also displays that Champlain, himself, is no less tortured than the one’s he sarcastically chooses to insult. As a result, it becomes a scathing indictment of what’s wrong with America. Each caller is a representation of it’s greed, it’s consumerism, it’s self-righteousness and it’s racism. But that’s not all. Stone and Bogosian lure us in, challenging us to question ourselves and question our own contribution to society, our own politics and our own self-awareness. A highly charged and criminally overlooked film from Stone’s catalogue. Dialogue driven it may be but this is a polemic who’s bite is as ferocious as it’s bark.Mark Walker
Trivia: John C. McGinley, known as the most frequent acting collaborator of Oliver Stone, had also appeared in the theatrical presentation of Eric Bogosian’s play.