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USA 1992
Directed by
Robert Altman
123 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

The Player

The Player is regularly cited as one of the best satires of Hollywood ever made. Not having studied the matter I cannot judge although it strikes me as more sardonic and blackly comical than satirical, but perhaps that is due to Altman's typically laconic style more than anything else.

Griffin Mill (Tim Robbins) is vice-president at a movie studio and his job is to listen to pitches all day, identify hot properties and pass them on to the producers. When he starts getting death threats from a writer he assumes that he has rejected, Griffin decides to track him down and appease him with a deal. But things go pear-shaped when Griffin identifies the wrong man and then in a fit of anger accidentally kills him. And worst of all, his cushy, highly paid job is on the line,  

The Player is a crime movie both in the sense of an actual murder being committed by Griffin and in a metaphorical sense in the murder of originality, integrity and so on by the philistinic studio execs who are only concerned with making money. The screenplay by Michael Tolkin (who appears with his brother Stephen, playing a couple of writers who approach Griffin for a deal) based on his own novel skilfully weaves the two aspects together, having Mill commit both acts not only thus literally and metaphorically getting away with murder but being rewarded for it.

The pitch-black irony well suits Altman’s sensibility and, as has become his calling card, he peppers the narrative with a roster of famousscreen faces, playing either themselves or fictional characters (the funniest being Bruce Willis and Julia Roberts in a mock '40s style neo-noir). The result, if at times a little heavy-handed (there are less obvious choice for an "art" film than The Bicycle Thieves) makes for engaging viewing with Robbins a most charming villain.

FYI: The film was Oscar nominated for Best Direction and Best Screen Adaptation but was passed over for both in a year of strong showings (Clint Eastwood won for directing Unforgiven and Ruth Prawer Jhabvala for her adapted screenplay for Howards End).




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