The Player (1992)

“I was just thinking what an interesting concept it is to eliminate the writer from the artistic process. If we could just get rid of these actors and directors, maybe we’ve got something here.”

‘The Player’, directed by Robert Altman in 1992, is an American satire on Hollywood. Tim Robbins plays Griffin Mill, a studio executive who makes a living hear pitches for movies and, in most cases, destroying them. Mill is being sent faxed death threats and he assumes that the culprit is a writer he recently rejected called David Kahane, played by Vincent D’Onofrio. He arranges to meet Kahane and, following a confrontation, he murders him. Mill then embarks on an affair with Kahane’s girlfriend whilst the police close in on him. The narrative centre of the movie is this murder and the police investigation, but the structure and form of ‘The Player’ pushes this into the background. Altman is more interested in the hypocrisy of the industry that Mill works for, and you get the feeling the director is releasing some pent up frustrations. The movie is packed with cameos, in-jokes and digs about the star system, the obsequiousness and deference shown by ambitious writers, the blind possessiveness shown by other writers, and the avaricious drive of the studios themselves. All this is presented with Altman’s unique style of directing: scenes shot from a long distance away with overlapping, often improvised, dialogue. This style serves to both draw the viewer in, to give them a sense of spying-on rather than watching the characters, and to keep the texture of the satire at the front of the film, and the story at the back. There is a certain pleasure in identifying the cameos, not least because this movie, so cutting-edge and contemporary when it was released, is now dated and historicised.

Would I recommend it? It think ‘Short Cuts’ is a smarter movie, but the scalpel-sharp satire Altman creates in ‘The Player’ is thrilling. Watch in a double bill with Truffaut’s ‘Day for Night’.

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