Friday, January 25, 2013

The Player


Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 3/17/07 w/ Additional Edits.



Directed by Robert Altman and written by Michael Tolkin that was based on his novel, The Player is about a Hollywood executive who thinks he's being blackmailed by a screenwriter over a rejected script as he accidentally kills the man leading to all sorts of trouble. The film explores the world of Hollywood and the film industry itself about how they run things. With a cast that included 60 cameos, the film stars Tim Robbins, Greta Scacchi, Whoopi Goldberg, Lyle Lovett, Cynthia Stevenson, Richard E. Grant, Fred Ward, Peter Gallagher, Brion James, Vincent D'Onofrio, and Sydney Pollock. Plus, appearances by many, many, many, many actors, writers, producers, and directors. The Player is a witty yet entertaining satire Robert Altman.

Working as a studio exec, Griffin Mill (Tim Robbins) is a mover and shaker who hears writers and directors making pitch after pitch. Among them is director Alan Rudolph and another is writer Buck Henry who is pitching an idea for a sequel to The Graduate that he wrote. Surrounded by the likes of people including his girlfriend and story editor Bonnie (Cynthia Stevenson), Griffin seems to be the man in line to replace his boss Joel Levison (Brion James) as the studio head. Then came Larry Levy (Peter Gallagher) who has left Fox to join the studio and is now becoming the likely replacement. Mill's mentor Dick Mellon (Sydney Pollack) suggest to try and make moves and get Levy as an ally. Making things worse for Mill is a series of mysterious postcards he's been getting from a disgruntled writer whose screenplay he has rejected. Talking with his head of security in Walter Stuckel (Fred Ward), he finds the name of a writer he rejected named David Kahane (Vincent D'Onofrio).

Going to his address home, he finds a Icelandic woman named June Gudmundsdottir (Greta Scacchi) painting the house where he calls her from his mobile phone where they have a conversation and Kahane's whereabouts. He finds Kahane at a screening for Vittorio de Sica's The Bicycle Thief where the two have a conversation about endings and the script that Mill rejected about Kahane's life as a student in Japan. After an argument in a parking lot, the two have a fight where Mill accidentally kills Kahane. The next day, the news of Kahane's murder is all over Hollywood as Stuckel interrogates Mill about what had happened. After attending a funeral for Kahane, Mill meets June who finds herself out of place in the funeral as Mill learns he is being followed by a man named DeLongpre (Lyle Lovett). Mill is then investigated by a detective from Pasadena named Susan Avery (Whoopi Goldberg) who is charmed by Mill and his knowledge of film.

After getting away from an investigation, Mill receives another letter where he realizes that he killed the wrong man. The letters continue where Mill receives comfort from June as he decides to meet the man who sent him the letters. Unfortunately, he never meets him and instead, meets a British director named Tom Oakley (Richard E. Grant) and his co-writer Andy Civella (Dean Stockwell) about a film called Habeas Corpus. The pitch is successful despite the fact that it's against everything that Hollywood has been known for. Mill takes Oakley's pitch to Levy who decides to make it into his project despite the fact that they're not going into the traditional Hollywood format. After going into another investigation with Avery and meets DeLongpre, Mill learns that he's a suspect and he's being ridiculed after DeLongpre mentions Tod Browning's Freaks. Hoping to make an escape from everything, Mill takes a vacation to Mexico with June as he awaits his own fate.

While Hollywood is looked at as a place where risk isn't worth taking, Robert Altman is aware of how cruel the film industry can be. Despite Altman's cynicism, he choose to make Hollywood's slick world and turn it upside down to see how it works and how absurd it is. Altman and writer Michael Tolkin aren't making fun of it but reveal how the industry had changed from the Golden Age of Hollywood and the 1970s to the more commercial, blockbuster-driven 1980s and early 1990s. There's moments where Walter Stuckel talks about how the MTV-editing style has really ruined films while talking about Touch of Evil by Orson Welles where it had an opening, one-take, eight-minute sequence. Altman does the same thing to convey that style while he also reveals Hollywood's cynicism about reality and their idea for the happy ending which is totally Hollywood.

The film is really about this individual who is a mover-and-shaker of Hollywood who is confronted by a mysterious writer who is angry over rejection. When he meets Kahane, they discuss about the endings of Hollywood and art films. Griffin Mill is the protagonist but a villain as well. Yet, Mill is a character audience is supposed to hate because he hates writers for their demand to have control. Still, Mill is a character whose charm and personality is so winning, it's hard to hate a guy like that. While Altman chose to focus on this shady character like Mill, he makes Mill the driving force of this story about Hollywood and how they work.

Then comes the ending which is both ambiguous and ironic. Particularly on what the whole conflict of what is discussed during the movie. Altman makes the ending work for its humor as well as his approach by adding the same Altman-esque sense of improvisation and overlapping dialogue where the cameo appearances from actors have their moment expressing their frustration and excitements over films. The result is truly an entertaining and witty film from the late, great Robert Altman.

Cinematographer Jean Lepine does some excellent camerawork that's mostly done in a documentary-like style with no flashy photography or anything stylish. Altman's son and longtime production designer Stephen Altman and art director Jerry Fleming do amazing work in capturing the posh, slick look of Hollywood and the arty home of June. Costume designer Alexander Julian also does excellent work in creating the suits and clothing of the studio executives as well as the flowing clothes of June. Altman's longtime editor, the late Geraldine Peroni along with Maysie Hoy does excellent work in the editing to shift sequence to sequence while going into perspective cuts to convey the sense of atmosphere in the studios as well as that one-take opening sequence. Sound editor Michael P. Redbourn does some fine work in the film's sound to reveal the sense of tension of some of the film's suspenseful sequences. Music composer Thomas Newman brings a wonderfully melodic and suspenseful score to some of the film's suspense while adding a lot of playful melodies for the rest of the film.

Then there's the cast that is filled with many cameos that it's really up to the viewer to see who is there and such. Smaller performances from Gina Gershon, Jeremy Piven, and Randall Batinkoff as the young executives are wonderful with Dina Merrill as head assistant Celia and Angela Hall as Mill's secretary Jan. The late Brion James is excellent as the old yet wise Joel Levison while Peter Gallagher is great as the smarmy, slick Larry Levy. Lyle Lovett is great as the mysterious DeLongpre whose mysterious presence and motives only reveal the humor in the film Freaks.

Whoopi Goldberg is great as the detective Susan Avery who is charmed by Mill but also counters his charm in wanting to close a case while has a great line during a witness scene. Sydney Pollock is excellent in a small role as Mill's longtime advisor who cautions him on what to do with his career and how to deal with everything else that could affect it. Fred Ward is wonderfully funny as the security chief who loves the old film noir and detective stories of the 1940s and 1950s while revealing his disgust towards the films of the 1980s.

Dean Stockwell and Richard E. Grant are wonderfully funny as the writers of a film with Grant as the director who reveal their intentions while having a funny scene of telling Andie MacDowell not to go to Montana in reference to the film Heaven's Gate. Cynthia Stevenson is great as the moralistic girlfriend of Mill in Bonnie, who seems like the only person in the film that tries to do the right thing. Especially in the film's ending when she's forced to see a film that's changed and doesn't fit in with what Hollywood wants.

Vincent D'Onofrio is great as the frustrated yet brilliant David Kahane whose hatred for studios and Hollywood reveal the talents and how Hollywood has little time for talent and more for marketing and money. Greta Scacchi is excellent as the arty yet sweet June who doesn't understand anything about David and feels more in line in what Mill wants as Scacchi is the perfect leading lady for Mill. Finally, there's Tim Robbins in one of his great performances as the sleazy yet charming Griffin Mill. Though Robbins is playing a very devious villain, he manages to make the character likeable enough without a lot of emotions as he's just an asshole who just wants to make money and be a player. It's a great performance from Tim Robbins.

The Player is a fantastic film from Robert Altman that features a marvelous performance from Tim Robbins. The film isn't just a very funny take on the world of Hollywood but also in the way it shows a world as cruel as Hollywood. It's also a very rich ensemble piece that features a lot of funny references to the world of film. In the end, The Player is a brilliant film from Robert Altman.

Robert Altman Films: (The Delinquents) - (Countdown (1968 film)) - (That Cold Day in the Park) - M.A.S.H. - (Brewster McCloud) - McCabe & Mrs. Miller - (Images) - The Long Goodbye - (Thieves Like Us) - California Split - Nashville - (Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull’s History Lesson) - 3 Women - (A Wedding) - (Quintet) - (A Perfect Couple) - (HealtH) - Popeye - (Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean) - (Streamers) - (Secret Honor) - (O.C. and Stiggs) - Fool for Love - (Beyond Therapy) - (Aria-Les Boreades) - (Tanner ‘88) - (Vincent & Theo) - Short Cuts - Pret-a-Porter - (Kansas City) - (The Gingerbread Man) - Cookie’s Fortune - Dr. T & the Women - Gosford Park - The Company (2003 film) - (Tanner on Tanner) - A Prairie Home Companion

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