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Events in the life of a Hollywood studio executive, unfold with the same unrealistic positive coincidences ultimately culminating to a 'happy-ending' - much like the movie scripts he works day in and out with, after he accidentally murders someone. Written by
the reality of the making of the un-reality of Hollywood
Once The Player's end credits rolled, I was shaken, but in the kind of way that you are when you hear a really sly, long joke by someone who knows what they're telling is not hysterical but still has a wicked knack that will stay with you or gnaw at your side. Robert Altman's the Player, one of his very best films (maybe his best) made since the 1970's, is as much about the detached, perfunctory nature of these characters as it is a story of a murdering writing executive. It's not a satire in the sense of Dr. Strangelove; there's nothing that's over the top for the audience. But it does get in some notes, practically without any pretense of going about it otherwise, about the sterility of modern Hollywood. As a film buff, while watching this movie I'm not even bowled over by the numerous cameo appearances by Hollywood's main stars and wonderful character actors. That's because Altman, while being un-obtrusive of what the actors are doing on screen, has his focus set very carefully, and it's in this precise kind of mode that it works best.
It's not to say Altman's style doesn't have its own voice, and some of the shots in the film- self conscious no doubt- bring out the anti-Hollywood while Hollywood ideas. And working in the framework, not the dependence, of the story lets some interesting things of reality go on. When you see this 8-minute long take at the start of the film, it's getting the music of the film going right away, of the 'money-talks, BS-continues' attitude of a Hollywood studio, not just of the main character Griffin Mill (Tim Robbins). It may be 'just a movie', but it's also one with this constant feel of life going on, as Altman, through Tokin's screenplay, is a fly on the wall as it were. We see Mill, a writing executive, go through a rough patch with a certain writer (Vincent D'Onofrio) who hasn't heard back from him in a while. When a harsh accident occurs, Mill has to keep moving, not just with his job or his details of the night the two had, but with the writer's girlfriend (Greta Scacchi) who start an affair.
Altman once said, quite famously, once casting is complete 80% of his work is done. The Player is one of those major examples in Altman's career, and despite the fact that most, if not all, of the supporting actors (who may or may not also be in their cameo roles) are sublime in their roles (Goldberg, Scacchi, Lyle Lovett, and especially Cynthia Stevnenson), it's a key Robbins turn. His career has often had roles where he can lay in a naturalness that other actors might not have gone for. He also fits the role of Griffin Mill much as he did for Andy Dufresne and Dave in Mystic River. Here he has a perfect quality in this character to, as Ebert pointed out, not be un-likable even as he is not a good person. I loved the little facial gestures, the seemingly controlled stares, and the small moments where his upper class facade starts to wear down beneath the bloodless business of making movie deals. His could be for some the only reason to see the film, and rightfully so, as I really don't think Altman would've been able to pull it off with another.
It does almost add to what could be frustration for some by the end of the film to see what happens to him, but it actually is after thinking about it more even more satisfying an ending. A question the film ponders for this character is- if he can survive the reality when all he wants is a happy ending in the stories he hears? And through this simplicity some compositions and scenes are quite remarkable; that one single shot of a certain close-up of a sex scene not only plays brilliantly off of a script description earlier, but is one of the best scene-shots I've seen in recent movies. Very well done, if not for everyone.
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