Player, The

Reviewed By MP Bartley
Posted 01/25/05 03:29:41

"You play Hollywood, and Hollywood plays you."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

Hollywood just loves films about itself, from the joyful 'Singing in the Rain' to the acerbic 'Sunset Boulevard', from the gagfest of 'Bowfinger' to the more recent wallow of 'The Aviator'. But there's perhaps none more black, biting and scathing than 'The Player'. Looking back, it's perhaps not as revolutionary as first thought, but it still has enough pertinent points to make you grumble "fuckin' Hollywood knows shit".

Griffin Mill (Tim Robbins) is a man in a career crisis. He's a studio executive whose hits have dried up, and the vultures are circling. Larry Levy (Peter Gallagher) is the new kid in town and he's bringing him with fire and imagination, two things that Griffin is running short of. To make matters worse, Griffin is receiving death threats and security head Walter Stuckel (Fred Ward) has no idea who's sending them. Griffin thinks it's a writer he knocked back in the past and so tries to track the mysterious writer down himself, but this is a plan that goes badly wrong and ends up with Griffin under suspicion for murder. But then again, if you ruin peoples lives by rejecting all their lifes works, why not go the whole way and take their lives away full stop?

'The Player' is a film that could have gone badly wrong. It's stuffed full of star cameoes, so it could have been one big, smug injoke. It's not however, as Altman doesn't revolve the film around them, for once he follows the spine of the plot, and instead the cameoes are quick jokes that register a flash of recognition, a laugh and are then dispensed with (Burt Reynold's cameo in particular is priceless).

And remember, this is Robert Altman we're dealing with, a man whose films tend to either fall into the camps of either masterpieces or arse, with very little middleroad. His wandering plots, muffled dialogue and pointless plot diversions can infruriate and annoy, but they're held back here. He's much more restrained and instead just constantly mines the comedy from the situation, whilst never losing sight of the murder plot. Take the opening sequence as Altman's camera weaves around the studio lot, ducking into offices, overhearing gossip and conversation, and always returning to the eye of the storm: Griffin, hearing a pitch for 'The Graduate 2' which sounds like cross between 'Wuthering Heights' and 'Misery'. This is clearly the work of someone who both loves and loathes Hollywood, and knows how scary and funny the place can be.

And 'The Player' is very funny indeed, if not as particularly risky and a little bit softer than it once was. But Griffin's increasingly antagonistic relationship with Levy is a hoot as he tries to lumber him with unbearable writers and unworkable plots. But the comic jewel in the crown is Richard E Grant's pretentious writer determined to make an art film, with no Hollywood stars and no Hollywood Hollywood. Grant gives a pitch perfect performance in his few scenes as the manaical writer bursting with his own self-opinion and the conviction of his scripts importance (anyone who's ever worked in the industry, or even done any type of media production course will recognise Grant's character instantly). It's all one big build up to a great punchline and one of the best examples of a film within a film we've ever seen.

Robbins is top notch as the increasingly desperate and harassed executive, who's outwardly reptilian and concerned with lies and outward impressions (he won't hear a pitch over 30 words and when an artist takes his picture, she has to hide him behind a shower curtain), but still holds your attention and gives the film some sense of human interest.

'The Player' isn't as devastatingly incisive as it perhaps was (studio executives aren't nice people? Shock horror!), but it still delivers its punchlines with glee, taking swipe after potshot at Hollywood until it has to fall to its knees and admit defeat. It's like that episode of The Simpsons where Homer chuckles "It's funny cos it's true!". Never a truer word spoken.

© Copyright HBS Entertainment, Inc.