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The Player

September 22, 2010

844. The Player
Directed by Robert Altman
USA, 1992

IMDB | allmovie

Reviewed by Ally
Second viewing


Movie producer Griffin Mill (Tim Robbins) finds his position under threat from an up-and-coming executive. He also starts receiving anonymous threats from a rejected writer. When he tracks down the probable culprit, the two get into a fight and Griffin kills him. He becomes romantically entangled with the dead writer’s girlfriend June (Greta Scacchi), who doesn’t know Griffin is the main suspect. Will he be granted a happy ending?

Essential Scene:

Earlier in the film, screenwriter Tom Oakley (Richard E. Grant) had pitched a story about a woman who is sentenced to death for murdering her husband. The District Attorney falls in love with her but still sends her to the gas chamber, and realises too late that she is innocent. Tom’s pitch hinges on tragedy and realism. No happy ending, no big stars.

We see the finished film being screened for the executives. Griffin Mill has made a few changes.

Julia Roberts is strapped to a chair in the gas chamber as Peter Falk and Susan Sarandon look on. The guards lock the chamber. It fills with smoke. Her head becomes heavy, then drops.

Cut to a police officer on the telephone. “WHAT?!”

District Attorney Bruce Willis arrives to rescue his love. He snatches a guard’s gun, shoots through the window and climbs bravely inside. He unbuckles her and carries her away in her arms. She looks up at him.

Julia Roberts: What took you so long?

Bruce Willis: Traffic was a bitch.

In the screening room, the executives applaud. “The audience is gonna love it!” But Griffin Mill’s ex-lover, story executive Bonnie Sherow (Cynthia Stevenson) is unimpressed. She turns to Tom Oakley.

Bonnie: You sold it out. I can’t believe it, how you could let him sell you out? I mean what about truth, what about the reality?

Tom: What about the way the old ending tested in Canoga Park? Everybody hated it. We re-shot it, now everybody loves it. That’s reality.


The Player is both a pointed satire of Hollywood and an affectionate tribute to it. The notorious opening shot consists of an unbroken take lasting nearly 8 minutes, the camera dipping in and out of absurd movie pitches — “it’s kind of Ghost meets The Manchurian Candidate” — and passing conversations about classic movies, including Touch of Evil which is praised for its long unbroken opening shot. This metatextuality is maintained throughout, with Griffin Mill eventually being pitched the very film we’ve just been watching.

The Player celebrates Hollywood’s finest work, featuring cameos from countless stars. But it also condemns Hollywood for its tendency to crowbar in happy endings, romance, sex, violence and big stars for commerciality at the expense of artistry. And yet it wryly employs all of these supposedly commercial aspects in the making of a resolutely uncommercial film.

None of this is likely to interest you if you’re not a film buff, but it’s a stimulating treat if you are. Now let’s all play a game of Spot the Cameo!

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