Talk Radio Reviews
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 - a small, pokey radio studio - and primarily focused on one man, making this essentially 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 this is 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 hold up a microscope to 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.
Plot is good, and insightful. Solid direction from Oliver Stone, in a more low-key movie that is better than many of his more well-known offerings.
However, the movie maybe feels too much like a play: long speeches, basic set.
In addition, the social commentary is pretty much rammed down your throat. There is hardly a likable character in the movie. A bit more subtlety and shades of gray would have been good.
This said, it makes a good point, and the performances are solid. Eric Bogosian reprises his role in the play to great effect.
Taking place predominately in one setting, a radio studio, Stone was able to create a very noticeable level of intensity and earnestness, albeit a very confined intensity. This is a testament to his style of scene building, with an especially keen sense of framing that both underscores the emotion of the scene, and creates great tension. This works, as the film is essentially a character study, and an exploration of the medium of radio as well, a medium both intensely personal and yet also impersonal.
The performance by Eric Bogosian really anchors the film. His manic energy, his seeming callousness, his cynicism, embodies the role perfectly. Through the progression of the film, we see his character arc, which is done in both an authentic and organic way.
The themes explored in Talk Radio are done well. It captures the societal fascination with decadence and the mundane in powerful way, while also being a commentary on our modern media culture. Some of the dialogue used in the radio scenes can be stilted at times, but it's always sold well by Bogosian.
An overall underrated and overlooked smartly executed gem by Stone.