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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>
Robert Altman gets under my skin. His films are worthy of great respect, yet they are frequently as irritating as they are brilliant. The Player is, as much as Short Cuts, a quintessential Altman film. It is also one of the best roles Tim Robbins has ever enjoyed.
This film is about Hollywood's dark underbelly. The Player eviscerates its subject by twisting justice, political gamesmanship and artistic integrity into new configurations. For non-film-buffs or non-professionals some of the humor may seem too subtle to notice. To film buffs and insiders, the humor is totally over the top.
Robbins plays a young studio exec who is playing the game to win and seems, at least part of the time, to have a conscience. Everything is going along fine for him until he starts receiving threatening calls and letters from a writer whose screenplays he has rejected, and an arch-rival is promoted to a position just above his own. Paranoia and real danger seem in the periphery of every scene in his life, as the make-believe of his industry and the reality of his life begin to blend freely.
Robbins makes a character who could easily have been totally unlikeable somehow sympathetic. Despite his amazing performance, liking the character makes you feel as if you should go stand in a shower and exfoliate for an hour or so. He is supported by excellent supporting work all around. Especially good are the two major women's roles - played by Greta Scachi and Bonnie Sherrow, and veteran camp character Dean Stockwell.
The photography is liberally and amusingly lifted from several classic thrillers, mysteries and dramas, and comes off fresh and original - not at all like a DePalmaesque bit of visual plagiarism. And the pace is brisk.
The Player is probably my favorite Altman film, and it is easily my favorite Tim Robbins film. It's entertaining, intelligent and, well, it has a bad attitude. See it some night when you're angry and you need a good dark laugh.
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