The Player

Synopsis: Making Movies can be Murder.

A studio script screener gets on the bad side of a writer by not accepting his script. The writer is sending him threatening postcards. The screener tries to identify the writer in order to pay him off so he’ll be left alone, and then in a case of mistaken identity gone awry, he accidentally gives the writer solid ammunition for blackmail. This plot is written on a backdrop of sleazy Hollywood deals and several subplots involving the politics of the industry.

The Player 8.0

Until I happened to stumble on ‘The Player’ on The Movie Network, way back in the early ’90s, I had not heard of Robert Altman (although I was aware of M*A*S*H, I didn’t know he had directed the original movie mad0071 Free Emoticons   Anger). I also only knew Timothy Robbins in passing, in what was to me unmemorable turns (‘Jacob’s Ladder’/’Erik the Viking’/’Top Gun’/’Jungle Fever’), and never really had taken a liking to him.

‘The Player’ changed everything. happy0024 Free Emoticons   Happy

Suddenly, Robbins was on my radar, and after ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ even more so. Meanwhile, I saw ‘Short Cuts’ (which also features Robbins in a small part) and fell in love with Altman. love0010 Free Emoticons   Love Or thought I did (until I saw ‘Prêt-à-porter’ and my enthusiasm waned considerably indifferent0004 Free Emoticons   Indifferent ). I never became a huge fan of either of them, but I’ve ever since been intrigued by their output.

I don’t think I’ve seen ‘The Player’ since then (I just didn’t get around to buying it – I always thought I’d eventually get the Robert Altman DVD Collection, but I only ended up getting singles here and there), so watching it again was something I’d been looking forward to for a while. Some 20 years later, I have to say that it was well worth the wait. happy0027 Free Emoticons   Happy

‘The Player’ takes us on a satirical, if slightly dark, journey into the production side of Hollywood; it pushes past the red curtains and dares to take us beyond the silver screen, into the dog-eat-dog business side of movie magic. It is quite funny, in an acerbic way that only industry insiders could dream up (Altman has had his share of run-ins with Hollywood over the years).

Robbins was perfectly cast as the vacuous, yuppie script screener Griffin Mill; he brings to the part just the right amount of sleaze and ego to make the guy despicable, and yet enough friendliness to make him sympathetic – despite all the unethical, if not downright evil, things he does.

What we find here is a frightened man who armours himself with layers of callousness. I would imagine him as a step beyond Frank Whaley’s character in ‘Swimming with Sharks’, but still very removed from the complete human waste that is Kevin Spacey’s character in the same film; Mill falls somewhere in the middle.

Thankfully, ‘The Player’ isn’t nearly as caustic as ‘Swimming with Sharks’, even if it also eschews the delights of ‘The Muse’. If it had been, it would have been impossible to watch Mill for a full two hours. I’m actually a fan of ‘Swimming…’, but it takes a completely different approach that likely wouldn’t work here.

One of the key elements of this picture is the omnipresence of Hollywood actors, filmmakers and industry people in various scenes. jumping0050 Free Emoticons   Jumping If they’re not in the background, fleshing out the film and making it look realistic, they’re interacting with the fictional characters in the story. Apparently the number of cameos runs as high as 50, but I simply could not keep up (not that I can recognize all the faces anyway winking0002 Free Emoticons   Winking).

One of the ones that I quite liked was Greta Scacchi. I remember hearing about her rather favourably many years ago, but I’ve never really bothered to explore her films. I must say that was mildly enchanted with her in ‘The Player’. There’s just something about her that’s so down-to-earth but sexy – not unlike Diane Lane, I’d say. happy0024 Free Emoticons   Happy

I was also pleasantly surprised to find that Cynthia Stevenson also had a meaty part here. Based on the few films I’ve seen her in, I’d say that she was still developing her skills at this point in her career – she simply didn’t draw me in like she usually does, even if she was still good. On more troubling note, she was really unhealthily skinny back then. Sigh… Hollywood! sad0038 Free Sad Emoticons

I must note that there was one huge issue with my viewing of the film and, thus, it may reflect in the rating that I’m giving it. For unknown reasons, the DVD was über-bass heavy – to the extent that it blurted out of the speakers much louder than anything else and all distorted. At one point I was even concerned about its effect on my speakers. sad0133 Free Sad Emoticons It was a distraction that I didn’t expect and it is a real deterrent; I may have to upgrade to Blu-ray to watch it again – seeing as there’s only been that one DVD edition, dating back to 1997!

This caveat aside, ‘The Player’ was a thoroughly enjoyable black comedy wrapped up in a crime story. It’s not a life-changer, but it’s deserving of a number of repeat viewings – the twists and bends in each encounter are pure, cynical bliss and the dialogue is loaded with riotous moments. I think that the more one watches it, the more appealing it gets. Play it often. happy0021 Free Emoticons   Happy

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