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Jennifer Jason Leigh,
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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. Written by
Ed Sutton <email@example.com>
Screen writing is a craft, one of many in Hollywood that builds or supports the towering edifice upon which our glamorous "stars" ... sit. Without a screenplay, actors, directors, and others in Hollywood might otherwise grovel for beans and potatoes at the local soup kitchen.
And so, director Altman gives us "The Player", a film about a screen writing executive (well played by Tim Robbins) who listens to story ideas, and makes decisions about what you and I see, and don't see, at the local multiplex. For every idea that evolves into a film, billions and billions of other ideas wither and die, along with the careers of the writers who conceived those ideas. Inevitably, some of those writers get miffed, and that is the premise of "The Player".
It's actually a weak premise, because in reality the business of screen writing is fairly bland, and the conflict, which exists mostly in people's heads, is fairly tame. To rev up the drama, and to qualify the film as a "thriller", the filmmakers here insert some contrived conflict, in the form of threatening postcards. If you watch this film for the "thriller" element only, you may be disappointed.
This film works, not so much as a thriller, but rather as a classy, semi-inside peak into the back rooms of Hollywood decision making. There's lots of humor, some obvious, some subtle. And the film's plot is filled with satirical irony. In addition to Robbins' fine performance, Whoopi Goldberg is great as a tampon obsessed detective.
The best approach to "The Player" is to absorb the Tinseltown setting, and watch the characters as they maneuver for selfish advantage. I really liked the inclusion of dozens of real-life Hollywood celebrities, just being themselves. You get to see them in their natural habitat. This element adds texture and authenticity, and thus helps to prop up the weak story.
Although the contrived plot falters somewhat in the middle Act, it's the overall Tinseltown setting and real-life ambiance that make "The Player" an entertaining and insightful film.
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