DVD Review– The Player
The Player is a scathing indictment of the vapidity and venality of Hollywood culture made by people who love the movies. Robert Altman directed this classic 1992 satire, with Michael Tolkin adapting his own novel for the screen. As usual with Criterion, the release is filled with great extras, but the best of these is Altman’s own commentary track, which should be listened to as soon as possible after watching the movie.
The Player centers around Griffin Mill (Tim Robbins), a shameless studio executive who worries that he’s in danger of losing his job. Soon, he starts worrying about losing his life once a series of death threats come his way. Eventually, he thinks he’s solved the mystery of who’s out to get him, but an unforeseen twist leads to a terrible crime, and an inverted murder mystery explores the depths to which an amoral man can sink if he cares about himself and nobody else.
Throughout the movie, Altman peppers the film with little in-jokes and sly winks at the audience. There’s a reference to long takes at the start of the movie, and the tracking shot that starts the film is several unbroken minutes, filled with improvisation and setting the mood for the takedown of Hollywood culture that is both amiable and caustic. The movie is filled with dozens of cameos from stars including Julia Roberts, Bruce Willis, Nick Nolte, Burt Reynolds, Peter Falk, Jeff Goldblum, Lily Tomlin, Susan Sarandon, Jack Lemmon, Cher, Anjelica Huston, and many more. There’s a strong “meta” aspect to the production, a sense that everybody knows that they’re making a movie about the movies, but do any of the actors appreciate the valid criticisms Altman and Tolkin are making about the Hollywood culture? Of course, even if you understand the dark heart beating underneath the glamour of Hollywood, what can you do about it?
Altman’s answer to that question is that you can make a movie,acknowledging and sometimes subverting Hollywood tropes, most notably the “happy ending.” Altman clearly loves moviemaking, but there seems to be a deep distain, even contempt, for the executives who seek
out creative integrity and kill it.