Oliver Stone’s Talk Radio took its inspiration from a real event: the murder of liberal Denver radio personality Alan Berg at the behest of a militant right-wing hate group. Here is the story: Barry Champlain is a provocative radio talk-show host, whose racy eloquence and inflammatory views stirs up both love and hate among his listeners. He’s witty, cynical and self-indulgent, while his weird fans seem born to advertise for the dark side of America: he gets calls from drug-abusers, suicidal teenagers and angry neo-nazis from all parts of Denver.
Fame comes rapidly and the show gets promoted to national broadcast. And the real troubles begin. One night Barry pushes one caller just a bit too far, and just before hanging up the phone, he hears a scary voice saying: “I know your face, Jew. I know where you live. I’ll find you soon.” Two days later he gets shot in the street, just a few meters away from the studio.
For some, this is the story of a guy who wittingly played with fire and eventually got burned. In a sense, they’re right. To give people a chance to unleash their darkest instincts is to play with fire. Especially people whose audience is usually limited to police stations, intensive care units, bums and drug dealers.
But this film goes beyond the case of Barry Champlain/Alan Berg. Barry here operates as the lightning rod of society. He sure takes pleasure at riding the lightning, but he discovers pretty soon that the game he started is endless, and that it takes no rules. People suffering daily from anger and frustration, lack of money, lack of love and lack of recognition should be happy to find a soapbox and someone to talk to, even if he’s an act. But they’re not. They feel even worse.
In all their misery, they still have more respect for the racist cop or the corrupted politician, because these two stay where they belong. Barry doesn’t. They can take the lies from the nababs above, because they’ve been groomed to and because they have no choice. But they won’t take the truth from a simple radio host whose outspokenness is a constant offence to the system that didn’t favor them, but which they look up to as an almighty God.
These people won’t shoot the President. But given a chance, they will shoot the one guy who has the guts – or the freedom – to call it an act at the face of the world.