“Traffic was a bitch!”
Hollywood, Hollywood. Land of movers, shakers, bigwigs…and murderers? In The Player, Tim Robbins is bigwig Griffin Mill, a studio script screener on the assumed outs with his respective studio. Mill’s daily task is to listen to every one of these scripts pitched to him, and give the greenlight to said scripts. Problem is, only 12 out of the roughly 50,000 a year can be chosen. Having this much power has given Mill a standoffish and rote personality.
Unfortunately, his life is about to become a living hell. One of the 50,000 writers whose script was rejected begins to send threatening postcards to Griffin, stating explicitly that he is going to kill him. Obviously serious business, Griffin searches frantically for the jaded individual, and eventually manages to come face to face with the man. Attempting to offer a script deal in exchange for the stopping of the death threats, things quickly go haywire. At least for Mill, his nightmare appears to be suppressed. Except it is not, and the postcards are still coming. So who exactly is this person?
For myself, the appreciation of The Player didn’t resonate with me until it ended. As I was viewing, I knew I was watching something different that was enjoyable enough but was unsure if I truly liked it. So, I decided to give it another watch shortly after the initial completion, and just about everything that was originally deemed unnecessary or vain by yours truly now showed purpose and intelligence.
The Player is basically a dark satire on movies, more specifically the dark recesses of Hollywood. At times, it feels a bit too insider-ish with its presentation, and harbors the feeling of being dated not only with the obvious 90’s style sense, but some of its poking of Hollywood and its conventions, some outdated in 2014. But, anyone who shares a solid appreciation for cinema will find most and maybe even all that it takes aim at here. There is a main plot as mentioned, but it fades into a piece of the background once the movie truly starts rolling. Which is good, because that strand, while alright, is more of the side dish to the film’s main courses.
What truly makes a film successful? Are studios really interested in making “art”? These are but a few of the questions this film tackles in delicious irony, which makes up its comedy. Not “side-splitting” comedy, but the type of comedy that garners laughter because it is very clever and self-referential. Speaking of self-referential, the ending is one of the more impressive ones I have had the pleasure of witnessing in recent memory. It is one that is clear, and yet allows for enough interpretation. At any rate, very very satisfying. I could go on and on about the film’s meta-ness, but time to let you experience it for yourself.
The experience does take some time to manifest however; The Player suffers from a slow start. For the first 20 minutes or so, it comes off as nothing more than an aimless plot serving only to show off its many cameos, which it has many of (roughly 60). Perhaps this was the point, once again displaying its cleverness by mocking those movies that rely on numerous cameos to support a bare bones storyline. I can get behind this thinking, but the beginning is still uneventful.
It isn’t until an unrecognizable Vincent D’Onofrio appears on screen to inject some needed tension and raised stakes. Though brief in screentime, his character’s presence transforms the movie into what it becomes. He turns out to be the most relatable character when all is said and done. Of course, the main character is Griffin Mill. Played by Tim Robbins, it is a performance that came off as solid until it was further analyzed. Mill isn’t a man with a lot of zeal or charisma, but he isn’t supposed to be. He is a product of the Hollywood engine, unoriginal and occasionally dull. Robbins captures this in essence, making this one of his better roles, and rightfully recognized as such.
Robbins is supplemented by an adept if maybe slightly unknown supporting cast, such as Whoopi Goldberg, Lyle Lovett, Peter Gallagher, and Greta Scacchi. When asked to, they all deliver enough even if the performances themselves are not too memorable compared to Robbins and D’Onofrio.
But The Player isn’t about its cast, it is about the vision its director, Robert Altman, is able to showcase. Though adapted from a 1988 novel written by another man, Altman used many of his experiences from decades earlier dealing with the realities of Hollywood here. It can be seen that there is some disgust evident with the film making business, but also much appreciation for what it has become. Even the way it is directed and the dialogue on hand in certain scenes pays homage to certain movies of yesteryear. I highly advise listening to the directors’ commentary, which gives much more elaboration on the film.
This was made for multiple viewings, but if it can only be viewed once, so be it. Probably most appealing to movie buffs, still anyone who considers themselves even a passing fan of cinema needs to give The Player a watch.
Photo credits go to Imdb.com, impawards.com, & gonemovies.com.
Follow the Movie Man @MovieManJackson.