David Brown who would soon become the producer of Robert Altman's comeback film, The Player was reading newspaper one very ordinary morning. It was then that he skimmed through a short excerpt from a novel called "The Player", by Michael Tolkin. David Brown was immediately struck by the amount of film production knowledge Tolkin would have had to be familiar with to write such a novel. The novel seemed as though it were written by a film producer themselves! Brown attended a meeting with several writers, including Tolkin. It was then that Brown bought the rights from Tolkin's publisher to make "The Player" into a movie. The best part is, Brown bought the rights for the outrageously low price of $2,500. The publisher who solid was later fired for selling it so cheaply.
It was at that point Brown decided he needed a director. He sent the novel around to a few directors, including Robert Altman. Altman responded immediately, claiming that he absolutely adored it and he was dying to make it into a movie. At this point in Robert Altman's life, his career has certainly had it's share of ups and downs. It is sad but true that Altman had faded a little. However, Altman needed to make a commercial film in order to be given the privilege of making a film he wanted to make called, Short Cuts. However, since Altman had made some... well... terrible films recently, he also needed to get his name attached to some quality films. The Player was the vehicle that Altman required to get to where he needed to be. And so Brown hired him as the director.
Robert Altman put very little thought into who he wanted as his lead actor. Tim Robbins was without a doubt, the answer. However, at this time, Tim Robbins was a name nobody has heard of. In fact, Robbins was broke. He desperately needed employment to take care of his wife and children. Altman had planned for Tim Robbins to star in Short Cuts. Since Short Cuts had been delayed, and Robbins was in dire straits, Altman decided that the part was perfect for Robbins. However, as always, the studio didn't like that. They wanted a big name for the lead role. Altman fought back and he protested. However, it was not long before a genius idea dawned on him.Why not have the main characters been played by generally smaller names and have fifty or so cameos by big names? The studio agreed, and that's how The Player came to be.
Cut to a little bit later in time. The Player has just premiered at Cannes Film Festival. The amount of buzz the film has received at Cannes was unbelievable. In fact, it was right then everyone suddenly wanted to get their hands on Robert Altman again. Altman was able to sell three film ideas at Cannes: Short Cuts, Kansas City and some film he never actually got around to making.
If it weren't for The Player, Altman would have just faded and become forgotten. The Player pulled Altman back up to where he deserved to be. The film was a big success in the box office, and among the critics. Where does The Player stand today? It is certainly one of Altman's most popular films AND without a doubt, one of his best. The Player currently holds a VERY solid 7.7 on IMDb and a 98% on Rotten Tomatoes, ranking it as his greatest film on Rotten Tomatoes.
One thing is for sure, nobody is going to forget The Player any time soon.
Griffin Mill is one of the few producers who can actually sniff out a good film. That said, it is probably the reason he is slowly losing his job. He lives a normal life, making a tremendous amount of money. All is ordinary until something strange happens out of the blew. Griffin receives a letter from someone claiming to be a writer Griffin never responded to. The worst part is: the letters are piling up... and they seem to have death threats.
Eventually snaps. He finds a writer he never called back, and Griffin murders the writer. Big mistake. Not only do the letters continue coming in, but Griffin has a mess on his hands. Not only is he suspected in murder, but he has fallen in love with the dead writer's girlfriend. Can Griffin remain innocent to the police while looking for the real writer of the mysterious notes before everything collapses?
I consider the number one attribute of The Player to be the massive array of actors and actress to cameo in the film. These cameos include: Karen Black, Michael Bown, Cher, James Coburn, John Cusack, Peter Falk, Louis Fletcher, Teri Garr, Scott Glen, Jeff Goldblum, Elliott Gould, Angelica Huston, Sally Kellerman, Jack Lemmon, Andie MacDowell, Malcom McDowell, Nick Nolte, Burt Reynolds, Julie Roberts, Susan Sarandon, Rod Steiger, Lily Tomlin, Ray Walston and Bruce Willis. Although all those actors have parts that are too small to appraise their acting, it is great fun to spot out all of the big names in The Player. This film compiles several film related thrills to keep the eager film fan with a smile on their face.
As I was saying, there are several constant film references; not only through recognizable actors, but The Player is filed with dialouge about classic cinema. The opening of The Player consists of utter chaos around a movie studio. At one point we follow two film producers debating about the greatest tracking shots ever. We also get a very enjoyable time noticing the several film posters up in Griffin's office.
In re-watching The Player I picked up on something I can't believe I originally missed. The Player is a complete parody of classic film-noir cinema. It takes the cliches of all the classic and piles them up. We witness snappy dialogue, murder, a femme fatale, a jazzy score and a whole lot of greed and jealousy. Film-noir, being my favourite genre, makes The Player impossible not to love.
Paul Thomas Anderson is a big fan of Robert Altman, and there's a great example of how Altman would have influenced Anderson in The Player. In watching Anderson's Magnolia you get a sense of the classic tracking shot that Altman does in the opening of The Player. Sometimes a tracking shot is used to be flashy and to say "Hey! LOOK WHAT WE CAN DO!". But that is not the case in The Player. The point of the tracking shot in the opening of The Player is to represent the havoc that occurs in a production studio.
In The Player, Tim Robbins combines intelligence along side with a great deal of paranoia in order to nail his performance as Griffin. This results in a fair bit of laughs and sympathy for Griffin. There is one other great performance in The Player. That performance is delivered by Greta Scacchi. She plays the writer's ex-girlfriend who Griffin falls in love with. It is difficult to accurately describe the appealing attributes of Scacchi's performance. She plays a creative and interesting women who is easy to like. All of the performances in The Player are good to a certain degree, but only two are remarkable.
It takes a good script and a great director to turn something as outrageous as The Player into something as believable as The Player. A big problem a film such as The Player can become a victim of is being ridiculous. If the film is too ridiculous, we don't believe it, it does suck us in -and then we don't like it. Yet Altman manages to let us follow along with The Player, never doubting it for a single moment.
Altman had some great shots in The Player. At one point we see in the foreground: two men talking. We cannot hear them however. We we can hear is the conversation between Tim Robbins and Brion James in the background. This leaves us bewildered since we would expect to hear the people in the foreground speaking.
However, I'm sorry to say this is not Altman's work with the camera. The main problem I had with The Player is the dim lighting. At times we try to look into the faces of the characters .. but we can't. We can't see it as we would like. In fact, we can't see anything in the frame as we would like to. This is due to the fact that The Player is constantly and pointlessly darkly lit. Sadly, Altman paid not attention to lighting for The Player.
As long as I am up the negative sides of The Player, I should add just on a side note that there is one scene where Griffin finds a snake in his car. The scene is fast-passed, loud and flashy. It seemed very out of place.
Another great part of The Player is how much it says about people. I'm going to spoil part of the ending here... so divert your eyes if you have not yet seen it. I love how The Player says something about how easily people will sell out. In the end, the film that two writers were going to make which was supposed to be an art film turns into a stupid Hollywood ending. It truly says so much about the human race.
The Player is one of the strongest films to come from Altman. It has mild flaws, but in the long run - it is great entertainment.
Directed by Robert Altman,
Starring: Tim Robbins, Greta Scacchi and Whoopi Goldberg
1. The Player