The Player

Released:  1992

Cast:  Tim Robbins, Greta Scacchi, Fred Ward, Whoopi Goldberg, Peter Gallagher, Brion James, Cynthia Stevenson

Oscar Nominations:  Best Director (Robert Altman), Best Adapted Screenplay (Michael Tolkin), Best Film Editing (Geraldine Peroni)

SUMMARY:  Griffin Mill (Tim Robbins) works as as executive in a major Hollywood studio, where his job is to listen and judge movie pitches.  Though the studios hear over 50,000 pitches in a year, only about 12 are accepted.  Mill is enjoying success in his professional and personal life:  he is dating story editor Bonnie Sherow (Cynthia Stevenson), who works for the same studio.  However, Mill’s idyllic life is threatened when the studio hires Larry Levy (Peter Gallagher), another story executive who is making a name for himself.  At the same time, Mill starts to receive postcards from an anonymous source, each one containing a death threat.  From the cards, he is able to infer that they are coming from a rejected script writer.  He wracks his brain for possibilities, and finally comes up with David Kahane (Vincent D’Onofrio).  Mill calls Kahane’s house and speaks to his girlfriend, June Gudmundsdottir (Greta Scacchi), who reveals that David calls Mill “the dead man”.  She also tells him that David is at the movies, so Mill hunts him down.  Over drinks, he offers Kahane a deal in return for the cessation of the postcards.  Kahane angrily (and drunkenly) rejects the offer and begins insulting Mill.  The two get into a physical fight outside the bar:  Mill holds Kahane’s face in a shallow pool of water until he realizes that he has accidentally killed the man.  He tries to make the scene look like a botched robbery, then flees.  The next day, he learns that this attempt has failed miserably:  the police are already investigating, and know that Mill was the last person to see Kahane alive.  To make things worse, Mill soon gets another postcard — meaning that he killed the wrong person.  The writer requests a meeting, but when Mill arrives he is stopped by two screenwriters who pitch him a move called Habeas Corpus.  The writer never shows (he had told Mill to come alone), but leaves a live rattlesnake in Mill’s car.

Mill is so frightened by the experience that he goes to June’s house and confides in her.  The next day, he plots his revenge on Larry Levy by recommending Habeas Corpus to him.  Mill is convinced that with no stars and a sad ending (as insisted on by the writers), the movie will be a huge flop; he will then come in at the last moment, fix things, and regain his standing.  He also arranged for Bonnie to go to New York, then takes June to a fancy party as his date.  When Bonnie returns she questions him about this date, and Mill responds by abruptly breaking up with her and officially seeing June.  During a weekend getaway, he tells June that he killed Kahane, but June doesn’t care.  Meanwhile, a witness to the murder has come forward, and the police want Mill to participate in a lineup.  Mill reluctantly agrees, but the eyewitness does not pick him out; the police are forced to release Mill.  A year later, the studio executives are watching the end of Habeas Corpus — which has been made with several big names (including Julia Roberts, Bruce Willis and Susan Sarandon) and has a happy ending.  Mill has completely turned things in his favor, and is the head of the studio; he is also married to June, who is pregnant.  The only person to voice an issue with the movie is Bonnie, who is immediately fired by Levy.  She appeals to Mill, but he refuses to help her.  ON his way home, Mill gets a phone call from the postcard writer.  He pitches a new movie to Mill:  a studio bigwig kills a screenwriter and manages to get away with it.  Mill agrees to buy the script, provided that it has a happy ending.  The anonymous writer then reveals that the name of the movie is The Player.

MY TAKE:  So, the cool thing about this movie is that it has a virtual ton of cameos by famous people — 65, to be exact.  The not-so-cool thing is that it makes it hard to know who’s a character and who’s playing themselves.  Most notably, I had trouble with Whoopi Goldberg and Lyle Lovett as detectives, because they didn’t appear right at the beginning, and I recognized them.  It took me a while to figure out that Whoopi, in particular, was not rehearsing for a role or just talking to Mill.  Basically every person that appears in this film is famous.  Most of them appear either in the movies that Mill is working on or around Hollywood.  An incomplete list:  Rene Auberjonois, Harry Belafonte, Gary Busey, Robert Carradine, Cher, James Coburn, John Cusack, Paul Dooley, Louise Fletcher (aka Nurse Ratched), Teri Garr, Jeff Goldblum, Elliott Gould, Joel Grey, Anjelica Huston, Jack Lemmon, Marlee Matlin, Andie MacDowell, Malcolm McDowell, Martin Mull, Nick Nolte, Burt Reynolds, Julia Roberts, Mimi Rogers (the first Mrs. Tom Cruise), Susan Sarandon, Rod Steiger, Lily Tomlin, Robert Wagner, Bruce Willis.  And that’s just the ones that were credited:  Althea Gibson and Patrick Swayze appeared in uncredited cameos.  That’s a lot of Oscar winners in one movie.  Though the ending might be “happy”, I didn’t like it.  It really bothered me that Mill got away with the murder (and everything turned out terrific for him), and it torqued me to the extreme that the writer’s identity was never revealed.  Actually, the ending kind of left a bad taste in my mouth about the movie industry.

RATING:  I’m ambivalent.


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