The Player - 1992
Director(s): Robert Altman
Writer(s): Michael Tolkin
Cinematography by: Jean Lépine
Editor(s): Maysie Hoy and Geraldine Peroni
Cast: Tim Robbins, Greta Scacchi, Fed Ward, Whoopi Goldberg, Peter Gallagher, Vincent D’Onofrio, Richard E. Grant, Sydney Pollack and Cynthia Stevenson
Some movies are regularly mentioned in lists or in conversations that circle the idea of “the best movies” or “favorite.” The boilerplates include; The Godfather (1&2), Raging Bull, Singing in the Rain, Casablanca, and Star Wars, to name a few. However, from time to time someone would name drop Robert Altman’s The Player, and that name was buried in the back of my mind until I ran across it on the Criterion Channel and hit play faster than I realized. I was probably halfway through the film when I realized I found a new “all-time” favorite. Let’s talk about it.
The story follows Griffin Mill (Robbins), a Hollywood studio executive. Mill hears story pitches from screenwriters regularly (around fifty-thousand a year) and has blown-off multiple writers in the process. One of these writers starts to send threatening letters to his office and home, making Mill paranoid as to who could it be out of all the writers he has met within the year. After doing some investigating of his own, Mill narrows down his suspects to one, David Kahane (D’Onofrio) and goes to meet with him in hopes of stopping the death threats, by greenlighting his movie. The meeting does not go to plan, and Mill ends up killing Kahane, placing him in the middle of a murder investigation. On top of potentially going to jail, he is also threatened by the new up-and-coming story executive, Larry Levy (Gallagher), that his studio recently hired.
Michael Tolkin’s script, based on his novel, is an incredibly smart satire of not only Hollywood movies, but of Hollywood itself. Showcasing tropes within the structure and having lines of dialogue directly referencing cliches audiences come to expect; such as Mill saying all the elements that make a movie successful at the box-office- describing the plot points of The Player. The pitched stories Mill has to sit through are also hilarious, as they are either movie sequels that make no sense or movie lingo word soup in hopes of a greenlit project. My favorite being the opening in where people are talking about “long takes” in film, one praising it and the other saying how pointless they are, and Altman would proceed to do the most extended take at the time. Altman also utilizes posters of classic films to set the mood or themes of the scenes where they are showcased.
Altman and Tolkin play with the genres bouncing between crime thriller, comedy, and the movies about the process of making movies, to create an unusual tone that cannot be compared to a single film. We are also taken through multiple plot lines that shift our attention, from the in-studio politics to the noir-ish investigation, and the murder crime investigation - all playing with the audience’s expectations of how typically the plots play out. The ending also breaks the fourth wall as it is virtually Altman winking at the camera, daring the audience to ask; “is this real?” The film is also littered with who’s who of the 90’s A-listers, blurring the line between the “real” Hollywood, and the fictionalized version Altman is using as the backdrop of the events.
The Player is an incredible film that works as a satire of all the encompasses Hollywood, but also works as a compelling thriller that will keep you guessing till the very end. The entire cast comes to play, but Tim Robbins steals the show, as he goes from suave studio head to on the brink of insanity in the face of a life sentence in jail. Altman and his team’s control of every single element within each frame are impressive, and there is not a single moment or sequence wasted – as they push the plot forward but keep their cynical boots on Hollywood’s throat. Go seek out this film now!
The Player is Why I Love Movies.
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