Talk Radio (1988):

The perils of free speech, or of the verbiage inherent in the stage-to-screen adaptation, principally a monologist's -- Oliver Stone senses it early on and sums up the word-image correlation, a cigarette over a microphone in tight, emblematic close-up. The talk, operatic in hostility, hemorrhages out of Eric Bogosian, imported from the stage along with his play, as a combative shock-jock shredding nerves across the airwaves. A next-call light bulb glows over the entire screen, so let the games begin: a parade of rapists, stoners, I Love Lucy fans and neo-Nazis lines up on a nightly basis for verbal abuse by the button-pusher, frizzy curls and Chayefskyan outpours. Bogosian gets beer splashed on his face by a fan at the stadium, but at the mike inside the studio he reigns supreme, confessor and absolver and speed-o-asshole; the show may be going national, so boss Alec Baldwin watches from behind the deep-focus glass booth, next to producer-bedmate Leslie Hope and ex-wife Ellen Greene. A shoebox sent in the mail reveals a dead rat wrapped in a swastika while some germophobe on the phone natters on about her mom's trash compactor -- "what if our country is slipping away, lost?" Smart-ass anxiety flows from Bogosian, though the voice-in-the-dark hysteria comes no less out of Stone, seizing the success d'estime transplant for the personal, even confessional, quandary of the anguished truth-teller in the end engulfed by the system. How to turn theatre into cinema? If Altman and Demme subtly heighten screen space, Stone sends Robert Richardson's camera spinning around the anti-hero during the flashback, only to later increase the speed for the switch, the room then rotating as Bogosian spills his innards at the eye of the storm. It is all about "saying what's got to be said," but Michael Wincott's giggly headbanger proves it's all falling on deaf ears, so what's left but the Calvary of a redneck's bullets, the atomized view of the splattered body segueing into an ascending pan up the radio tower for the power of words and images, therefore of cinema? With Leslie C. McGinley, and John Pankow.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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