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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>
During Robert Altman's "The Player" the criteria for a good Hollywood movie are established by the lead character: "Suspense, laughter, violence, hope, heart, nudity, sex, and happy endings, mainly happy endings". If you look close enough you'll find all of them in the film, as well as some in the film within this one. "The Player" is a scathing, smart, and funny attack on the Hollywood studio system and doubtless one that will be enjoyed more by those who have prior knowledge of the studio system, or are simply just movie fans. This film is packed with cameos, specific references to film history and only a truly dedicated movie fan could catch all of them.
The film opens with an eight minute long continuous shot which follows the lives and discussions of several executives and other personnel at a movie studio. This shot establishes several important characters as well as the cynical tone of the film (we hear a pitch for "The Graduate 2" set 25 years after the original among other ridiculous discussions). It also pays tribute to Orson Welles and Alfred Hitchcock, even mentioning Welles' "Touch of Evil" and its similar opening shot as well as Hitchcock's "Rope". Soon we meet Griffin Mill, a studio executive whose job is basically to hear pitches and either approve them or turn them down. His job isn't to pick the good movies, it's to pick the moneymakers (later in the film a character talks about "The Bicycle Thief", a product of Italian Neo-Realism and says: "that's an art film, it doesn't qualify. We're talking about movie movies"). One of the writers Mill turned down starts to send him threatening postcards and he assumes this person is David Kahane (Vincent D'Onofrio), so he tracks him down and semi-accidentally kills him, leading to a rather typical police investigation into the matter. Mill begins a romance with Kahane's widow, further adding to the convoluted Hollywood thriller plot.
In a wonderfully funny subplot Mill approves a pitch for a bleak, dark drama in which an innocent woman is sent to the gas chamber. The pitch is for the film not to include a happy ending and also 'no stars, only talent'. The subplot is developed alongside the main plot and used mainly for pure comic relief (nothing in "The Player" is serious drama, but the main plot is played straight and is mainly satiric in its ridiculousness, mostly avoiding big laughs in favor of more subtle humor). Over the course of the film the criteria for a good Hollywood film are all met. There's suspense (suspense in the Hollywood sense), laughter, violence, hope and heart (we manage to feel supportive of Griffin Mill even though he's mostly heartless and cruel), some nudity thrown in for good measure, and even an utterly idiotic sex scene which of course has nothing whatsoever to do with the plot. The brilliant double-ending is played for laughs and remains one of the best I've ever seen.
The screenplay by Michael Tolkin (who also wrote the book) is pitch-perfect in its balance, it manages to be satiric without descending to farce and scathing while remaining good-natured. The acting is excellent all around, particularly from Tim Robbins, who is perfectly capable of a strong performance (see Clint Eastwood's "Mystic River"), but plays his role here like any bland lead in a Hollywood thriller. He doesn't even bother emoting for the majority of the film, which only makes the satire stronger.
With "The Player" Robert Altman returns to form and makes a worthy addition to his impressive filmography (which includes films like "Nashville", "Gosford Park" and "MASH"). The film is funny both in a traditional manner and also in a dark, satirical manner. By including all of the elements of typical Hollywood in his film Altman has crafted a crowd-pleaser as well as a tribute to film and film fans everywhere. One of precious few films that are truly perfect.
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