If there’s one thing that I love, it’s a film that’s as fun as it is smart. Robert Altman’s Hollywood satire is truly an amazing picture which has everything to become a classic, namely flawless writting and brilliant direction.
Tim Robbins stars as a yuppie studio exec who spends his days listening to pitches from writers. But he can’t greenlight every project, and that ain’t pleasing rejected screenwriters. As the film begins, Robbins is being blackmailed by someone whose story he refused, and it’s starting to get to him. Things get even worse when he becomes a suspect for murder and starts dating the victim’s widow, even though he already has a girlfriend. By now, you might be wondering what’s so clever about this story. Well, actually, this is indeed a rather conventional quirky thriller plot, but what makes it special is that it’s only the blueprint for a largely self-referential film about Hollywood. It takes a familiar pattern and then adds a cynical twist. The film is more than anything a fascinating look at how Hollywood can be more about business than cinema itself. Filmmakers keep pitching movies to Robbins, and it’s fun to see how dumb some ideas are, or how they can be cheapened by producers.
For some reason, actors don’t seem to be afraid to be part of a satire of their business. Maybe it’s because they know how it feels to be cheated by producers. Well, besides Robbins, the film features Lyle Lovett and Whoopi Goldberg as cops, Peter Gallagher as an even greedier exec, Vincent D’Onofrio as a pissed writer, Richard E. Grant as a sell-out director, as well as a truck load of stars who cameo as themselves (my favorite is Bruce Willis). Michael Tolkin adapted his own novel into a smart, insightful and hilarious script, and Robert Altman’s direction does it justice. His camera is very dynamic (just look at the 7 minute long Steadycam shot that opens the film), and the film is visually inventive, but mostly, Altman really knows how to get the best out of actors. But “The Player” is much more than a technical achievement. It’s highly fun and intelligent all the way to its delightfully ironic finale.