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The Player
1992 - R - 124 Mins.
Director: Robert Altman
Producer: David Brown, Michael Tolkin, Nick Wechsler
Starring: Tim Robbins, Bruce Wilis, Julia Roberts, Peter Gallagher, John Cusack, Cher
Review by: John Ulmer
"The Player" opens with a long, tracking shot outside of a Hollywood studio. We see a man walk by (Fred Ward) who complains about how directors use too many cuts in films nowadays, and that they should use long, tracking shots, instead. The irony? The beginning of our movie is using a long, tracking shot.

We wind around buildings filled with hoards of famous stars and directors and writers. Griffin Mills (Tim Robbins) is a studio executive - he hears film "pitches," or outlines for film stories. We see Buck Henry (writer of "The Graduate") throwing a pitch to him for "The Graduate: Part II."

It is 1992, and every time a pitch is thrown, we hear a film exec respond to the pitch thrower by saying, "It should star Julia Roberts and Bruce Willis." One British man throwing a pitch to Griffin insists that his film shall have no big stars, especially not Julia Roberts or Bruce Willis. He says that he wants no action, no car chases, no sex, no happy ending. And when the hilarious, surprise movie-within-a-movie ending of "The Player" starts to unfold. . .well, let's just say that things do not always turn out the way people want them to.

And this is what makes "The Player" tick. It's a scathing satire, one that the sharpest of film buffs will love for its in-jokes and cameos (over 60!), and the most naive of filmgoers will love for its ironic, good-guys-lose, bad-guys-win story.

Griffin Mills (Robbins) has a nice life - a nice car, a nice girl, a nice job, and he's filthy rich. But lately his standing as a film executive has been threatened by the new guy (Peter Gallagher), who is showing lots of potential in the field.

One day he gets a postcard with threats on the back. Thinking that the postcard came from a writer he pushed away months ago (Vincent D'Onofrio), he confronts him. One thing leads to another and he ends up killing the writer - unintentionally, we are led to assume, though there are some doubts.

But being the ironic movie this is, Griffin has, of course, killed the wrong writer. And so he continues getting postcards and threats - someone even puts a poisonous snake in his car. Griffin becomes more and more paranoid as the days go on, and almost falls to the pressure of police questioning, led by Whoopi Goldberg.

In-jokes flow freely. Some big movie buffs might pick up on such references as to Levinson, or "The Bicycle Thief" (1942), or movie posters hanging on the walls in the background ("M," "Casablanca," etc.). But it will take numerous viewings before you realize that they are more than just there to please film buffs - they are there for irony. Film buffs might be the only ones who pick up on the irony of them, too.

This is a movie made for movie lovers, for the movie insiders and for those who like a good laugh. It's a spoof on tinseltown and all its crazy little rituals of getting a film made. This could be called an anti-heroic movie - and I'm sure it has been called that. It's not for those who like poetic justice in their films. Good guys burn and bad guys win. At first I didn't like this, but then I realized that it isn't trying to be anti-heroic - it's being ironic. And let's face it: Irony is funny.

"The Player" reminds me very much of "Adaptation" (2002), the story of a writer played by Nicolas Cage who doesn't want to Hollywoodize his script about orchids. "I just don't want to turn it into a Hollywood thing," he says. He says something to the effect of, "No violence, no drugs, no sex, no people overcoming obstacles to succeed in the end." The irony is that, in the end, everything he didn't want to happen in his script happens. There's some of that irony in "The Player," plus a little bit more. If you liked "Adaptation," then you've got to see "The Player."
Movie Guru Rating
A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic. A masterpiece.  An Essential film.  A classic.
  5 out of 5 stars

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