Combustible Celluloid
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With: Tim Robbins, Greta Scacchi, Fred Ward, Whoopi Goldberg, Peter Gallagher, Brion James,
Written by: Michael Tolkin, based on his novel
Directed by: Robert Altman
MPAA Rating: R for language, and for some sensuality
Running Time: 124
Date: 03/04/1992

The Player (1992)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Traffic Was a Bitch

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

One of the greatest Hollywood-eats-itself movies, Robert Altman's The Player starts by taking all the movie formula elements and subverting them. We have murder, sex, chases, thrills and laughs, but all completely backward from the way audiences have been trained to read them.

The unlikely hero -- who in most movies would be the villain -- is a movie executive named Griffin Mill (Tim Robbins). Mill begins receiving death threats from a rejected writer, and almost haphazardly guesses that it's David Kahane (Vincent D'Onofrio). He goes to see Kahane and winds up accidentally killing him, then covering up the crime to look like a robbery. He also begins seeing Kahane's girl, the sexy and aloof June Gudmundsdottir (Greta Scacchi) who has no interest in movies whatsoever.

At the same time, studio politics begin to threaten Mill's job, and a detective (Whoopi Goldberg) begins nosing around in his life. Altman sprinkles dozens of star cameos -- many veterans of his own films -- throughout, continually calling attention to the idea of filmmaking and acting.

He even opens the movie with a celebrated tracking shot that includes characters talking about celebrated tracking shots. The movie is doubly sweet because it comes from a filmmaker that was once a major player himself, and subsequently became a maverick and an outsider. It's the ultimate in nose-thumbing.