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“Movies. Now more than ever!” That’s the motto of the movie studio where fast-tracking exec Griffin Bell (Tim Robbins) works. But rumor has it a power play could push Bell out. And a rejected writer who’s sending anonymous death threats could push him under. Robert Altman directs this acclaimed and satiric love/hate valentine to Hollywood, and from the bravura opening tracking shot to the spot-the-star cameos (60+!) to the inside skinny of studio life to the gleeful finale, you’re in good, knowing hands. The Player. Now more than ever!
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This movie will make you think about all those people in your career life who don't have the power to say "Yes!"......HR people....technical people....middle managers, I think you get the picture.
Also like "The Big Lebowski, the satire and sardonic wit is packaged around what appears to be a crime drama, with the straight drama itself engaging enough to entertain most viewers the first time around.
Tim Robbins plays Griffin Mill, a high level studio executive whose job is listening to the countless pitches that come his way from aspiring writers wanting to get their screen play into production. The studio only produces a dozen features a year so Griffin mostly hands out rejections. He has made at least one major enemy during the process, an unknown writer who begins sending him threatening postcards.
Griffin thinks he has a line on the identity of his enemy, an unpublished writer named David Kahane (Vincent D'Onofrio-Private Pyle in "Full Metal Jacket) who lives in the valley with his artist girlfriend (Greta Scacchi). But their confrontation goes bad and Griffin accidentally kills him. Things get worse for Griffin; he becomes the main suspect for the murder, he gets a post-murder postcard revealing that he murdered the wrong guy, and he is in danger of being replaced by a newly hired hotshot Larry Levy (Peter Gallagher).
"The Player" is most famous for an eight-minute tracking shot at the very beginning of the film, self-reflexively compared to Hitchcock's "Rope" and to Welles' "Touch of Evil"; and full of Altman's trademark overlapping dialogue. Also notable are the 50 or so actors who make cameo appearances throughout the feature; most just play themselves (it is after all set in Hollywood) and it is entertaining just trying to identify everyone.
The DVD has a commentary by Altman and writer Michael Tolkin. Unfortunately Altman's film-making style does not lend itself to organized reflection so he mostly just rambles on about everything but the film; and Tolkin has major issues with the whole Hollywood scene so his commentary is just a continuous rant and whine about the system.
It is important to remember that Altman is essentially a Hollywood black sheep who has been at war with Hollywood his whole career. The Hollywood establishment is uncomfortable with him because he won't make their standard pre-sold product and yet he manages to crank out enough commercial successes on his own terms to keep them off balance.
"The Player" is kind of his revenge picture, he knew that its production would cause a wave of paranoia to sweep the industry and he made paranoia the defining characteristic of the film. He views Hollywood as a marketing machine that both drives and is driven by the lowest common denominator of audience demographics.
During the opening tracking shot look for Griffin's meeting with Buck Henry, who pitches a sequel to "The Graduate" (Elaine and Benjamin have a daughter and he suggests "The Postgraduate" for the sequel's title). Henry improvised this pitch which is funnier with each viewing, and appropriately also had a cameo in "The Graduate".
These film allusions are everywhere as Hollywood's past seems to be passing judgment on its pathetic present. Watch for the bungled meeting at the hotel, the scene ends with the camera centered on a picture of Hitchcock on the hotel wall-a shot of about the same duration as a typical Hitchcock cameo (in his own films).
For sheer comedy watch for Griffin's visit to police headquarters where the Pasadena detective (Whoopi Goldberg), interviews him in the busy squad room. Another detective (Lyle Lovett) is a movie buff who keeps chanting "One of us! One of us!" from "Freaks".
Griffin plots to derail the threat inside the studio by setting up Levy with a script pitched by self-styled auteur Tom Oakley (Richard E. Grant). It's a Susan Hayward vehicle with the heroine going to the gas chamber because "it's reality, and that's what happens." Oakley wants real which means no stars and a non-Hollywood ending. Julia Roberts and Bruce Willis are mentioned as exactly type of casting Oakley does not want; which foreshadows his pending commercial corruption and artistic compromise.
This is a film that is meant to be watched closely (the beginning tracking shot is Altman's way of getting our attention and warning us that we will need to pay attention). Audience involvement is very important to him and he is counting on a motivated audience who brings considerable prior knowledge to the viewing.
Then again, what do I know? I'm only a child.