Ben Hibburd’s review published on Letterboxd:
I went into this film knowing absolutely nothing about it other than it was an Oliver Stone film. Now whilst I’m not the biggest fan of Stone, he’s made some good films but he’s never made that one knockout, until now. I was absolutely blown away by “Talk Radio” and I’ve finally found that elusive great movie from Oliver Stone. So, it came as quite a surprise when I went to log this film and saw a bunch of average to slightly above average ratings. I feel as though I’ve seen a completely different film as this is by far and away Oliver Stone’s masterpiece!
“Talk Radio” is centred around a provocative late night radio talk show host, Barry Champlain (Eric Bogosian). Champlain’s show is a reflection of his own contemptible personality. Much like the guests who call into his programme he has a reactionary take on everything without having much in the way of substance, and as the film highlights throughout, some of his most poignant statements are based on complete falsehoods.
“Talk Radio” was originally conceived as a stage play, written by Bogosian, and that translates through the screen. The majority of the film takes place in one location, and there’s a heavy emphasis on dialogue, which is up there with some of the best put on film.
One criticism which could be levied at the film is that there’s not much in the way of plot, and to that I say, who cares? The overarching narrative of this film is that Champlain’s show is being picked up for nationwide broadcast, essentially making his voice more prominent. However, it comes at the cost of higher ups “making suggestions” on his show. There’s also threats from his callers, especially a neo-nazi making threats towards Champlain and his Jewish heritage.
Where “Talk Radio” shines is in its commentary and satirical elements. In our current discourse the person that shouts loudest is often heard the most and this film exemplifies that. Champlain is brash, charismatic, rude and condescending to his audience that he regularly exploits to spice up his show. Bogosian’s screenplay is working on a multitude of different levels, it presents a wholly unlikable character in Barry, yet it’s able to make you feel sympathy for his need to showcase the worst in people, even if comes at the cost of his own sanity.
It's hard to call this a directors film because it's fuelled by an incendiary screenplay that's firing on all cylinders. However, Stone also does a great job adding tension to an otherwise tension less film. His sharp editing complements the story perfectly, even if it’s his most restrained film from an auteur perspective.
The film also boasts a terrific supporting cast that features: Alec Baldwin, John C. McGinley, Leslie Hope and Ellen Greene. They’re all given their moments to shine.
“Talk Radio” is the definition of an underrated movie, this is a film that was ahead of its time, and one that is due to be rediscovered. It’s clear to see that this film has had an influence on latter films, “Nightcrawler” being one that comes to mind.
Everyone is on top form, Bogosian delivers a great performance and a wonderful script. Stone’s direction is assured and the supporting performances are all great. This is simply a great film and I recommend anyone who hasn’t seen it to check it out!