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"The Player" (1992) kill’s Hollywood!

Updated: Nov 27, 2022

Michael Mollicone

Business Manager

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“Movies, now more than ever!” The slogan looms high over a film studio’s backlot. Suits zig-zag every which way accompanying the murmuring hum of movie talk. Writers shuffle through offices pitching ideas and facing brutal rejections from callous producers. One executive in particular, Griffin Mill, played by Tim Robbins, has concerns about being pushed out of the job by a young up-and-comer while simultaneously receiving death threats from a disgruntled writer whose pitch he seems to have swept under the rug. Mill eventually cracks under the pressure, confronts the suspected writer who’s been harassing him, and accidentally kills him. Whoops! Now, with the eyes of the law observing his actions and a trapdoor about to swallow his career, Mill must keep up appearances while, in the meantime, becoming romantically involved with the dead writer’s widow.

Obviously, by the early nineties Robert Altman had a bone to pick with Hollywood, a community that accepted and rejected him like a revolving door. In “The Player,” Altman declares playback time, aiming a critical lens at Hollywood in what becomes one of the harshest satires of the film industry to date. Not only does the film succeed exceptionally in ripping apart the movie-making business on its corporate level, but it also offers an entertaining thriller with remarkable personality.

Kicking off the film is an intricate one-shot lasting almost eight minutes, cascading through the lot of Griffin Mill’s unnamed studio. There’s some fun comedy that blossoms from the eccentric characters and ridiculous movie pitches being discussed in offices.

For instance, Buck Henry, the writer for “The Graduate,” makes a cameo appearance as himself pitching “The Graduate Part II.” Yet another pitch, being labeled as “Ghost” meets “The Manchurian Candidate,” is described as a “psychic, political, thriller comedy with a heart.” It’s not really all for laughs however. The outlandish ideas being thrown here and there capture an era of Hollywood in which sequels, reboots and remakes boomed due to a lack of original ideas, similar to current day. Of course, there were still beautiful films being made, but most couldn’t seem to stray from the norms that made them merely marketable.

So, what makes a film marketable? Griffin Mill will give you the answer. A Hollywood picture must demonstrate suspense, laughter, violence, hope, heart, nudity, sex and above all else, a happy ending. This is where the genius of “The Player” shines forth. Even though it detests these qualities, the film also exploits them to make itself fit in. Altman experienced Hollywood’s loss of respect for the old-fashioned way of making movies. “The Player” intelligently mocks the expectations of a new Hollywood. Robert Altman even goes to the point of casting over 60 superstar celebrities such as Burt Reynolds, Bruce Willis, Jeff Goldblum, etc. only to use them as mere background pieces that are casually overlooked. The amount of celebrity cameos is so grand in itself, creating more fun in trying to find them all on screen.

As for the actors that portrayed roles: Robbins, Greta Scacchi, and Peter Gallagher. All of their performances were stellar. Whoopi Goldberg, Sydney Pollack and the recently deceased Fred Ward also possess non-cameo roles which offer great fun.

Griffin Mill was difficult to like, being an arrogant, self-centered studio vice president. In one scene he berates a waiter for serving his water in a wine glass and not a water glass; that should tell you enough. Even so, the work Robbins displayed on screen was phenomenal. Maybe that smug quality about him made the character not totally detestable. Nevertheless, once Mill’s actions come back to bite, it’s interesting to see how far he goes to fix his mistakes.

A theme frequently stressed within the satire is the industry’s preoccupation with Hollywood dying. Because the ending of “The Player” is gravely important to its overall meaning, you can expect spoilers ahead. An arc of the film includes one writer pitching a film in which he demands a realistic, genuine ending. However, when the picture was released, the climax was changed to a happy, people-pleaser ending, a cheesy Hollywood finish. Altman makes his final industry jab with this theme.

His films that were praised throughout his career, such as “Nashville” (1975), never strived to simply please audiences with a happy ending. He focused on the honest importance of the art itself. By the climax of “The Player,” Griffin Mill not only gets away with murder, but he becomes president of his studio and marries his victim’s widow, having a baby on the way. Everything ends happily in the most unsatisfying way, all to justify Altman’s claim that the old Hollywood is dead and realism is now a thing of the past. “The Player” is a unique satire that exemplifies Altman’s trademark sincerity of material, while also avenging the art that Hollywood abandoned.


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