The Player (1992)

(Second viewing, On Cable TV, March 2018) I first saw The Player sometime in the mid-nineties and fondly remembered it as a good satire of the Hollywood system. Seeing today, now that I’m venomously better-informed about moviemaking, is almost better than a first viewing. Tim Robbins stars as a studio executive who, harassed by an unknown person, comes to accidentally kill a screenwriter. The rest of the film is about avoiding detection even in the face of persistent investigators. Writer/director Robert Altman has rarely been funnier as he (somewhat gently) skewers the Hollywood machine, portraying nearly everyone as self-absorbed jerks capable of the worst. Back in 1992, much was made of The Player’s nonstop parade of cameos—twenty-five years later, it’s turned into a game to spot people whose fame has considerably waned a quarter of a century later, or non-actors Hollywood royalty whose face were never that well-known in the first place. The film does begin on a very high note with a complex seven-minute shot that neatly introduces a bunch of narrative threads and characters. It spends a remarkable portion of its first half-hour lining up joke after joke even as it gradually builds up its premise. The rest of the film isn’t as constantly funny—The Player does take its plot seriously after a while, and the detective subplot isn’t particularly high on satire. The last few minutes, however, do go back to the satire, with an amusing movie-in-a-movie and a killer last few lines in which, well, “forget it Jake, it’s Chinatown.”  While I don’t think I’m quite as bullish about the movie as when I first saw it, I still like it quite a bit.

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