The Player Review

Raphael Pour-Hashemi has reviewed the Region 2 release of The Player.

In no more than 25 words, a movie about movies directed by Robert Altman and featuring a whole host of star cameos.

Egocentric movie studio executive Griffin Mill’s (Tim Robbins) life is starting to seem like a movie in itself. Word around Hollywood is that he is about to be replaced by young hotshot Larry Levy (Peter Gallagher), and to make matters worse, Griffin has just accidentally murdered innocent screenwriter David Kahane (Vincent D’Onofrio) after accusing Kahane of sending him malicious postcards, and the police are on to him. Aside from all of this, Griffin has to survive in the shallow yet glamourous world of Hollywood, in which stars hag out on every corner and movies are made as long as the pitch can be condensed to twenty five words or less, and the endings are happy.

The Player is so clever it borders on being too clever for its own good. Directed by Robert Altman, the man famous for moulding and interweaving chaotic story-strands into a well structured whole in films such as Nashville and Short Cuts, the film ultimately resorts to being everything that it attacks. Here is a film about filmmaking, in which the cultured industry men such as David Kahane or Walter Stuckel (Fred Ward) talk about Ladri di biciclette or the opening tracking shot of Touch Of Evil, and yet the uncultured money men such as Griffin and Levy talk about test audiences, star casts and gratuitous sex scenes. The Player is clearly feeding us with the opinion that the former attitude is the healthiest for filmmaking, and yet the film clearly places itself with the latter opinion. It paints the industry as ridiculous due to studio heads having their movies resort to happy endings, unnecessary nudity, deviating murder subplots, miscast stars and a high concept tagline, and yet The Player contains each of these elements as if it were deliberately following these conventions. Agreed, this is a film that can be exceptionally funny at times, and is brilliantly written, acted and directed, but what exactly is the point of attacking something and then becoming the attacked? If anything, you could argue that The Player turns itself on its head to such an extent that it is a bad film according to its own guidelines. Take the opening scene, which lasts for eight minutes without a cut (a further homage to Touch Of Evil) and seems to be thrown in for no point other than to superficially show-off. This, despite the fact that the film attacks films that deploy deliberately overstated techniques in order to pander to critics.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that this review is against the film, because it certainly isn’t. The Player is excellent entertainment, and is very good at pretending to be a classic, even if its true status is another studio film that gives the audience everything it wants, including more than eighty stars in cameo roles! Essentially, the film explores the old Hollywood system and the new Hollywood system, and rather than attack the latter by being existing along the conventions of the former, it strangely decides to be the latter.

Academy Awards 1992

Academy Award Nominations 1992
Best Director – Robert Altman
Best Film Editing – Geraldine Peroni
Best Adapted Screenplay – Michael Tolkin

Presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, the picture is quite grainy in a dated early nineties way, and features a few elements of dirt. Even so, the majority of the print is quite pleasant and certainly the PAL resolution beats that of the NTSC Region 1 version. Overall, the transfer is good to the eye and features some quirky colour tones from what can be quite a visual film.

The audio mix claims to be 5.1, but you’d be hard pushed to find much use of the rear channels. Instead, the dialogue is mono and the music score and occasional sound effects separate into the left and right sections, but even so, this is an underwhelming audio mix.

Menu: A pseudo-moving menu with static images from the film and portions of Thomas Newman’s score. As menus go, this one isn’t bad, but certainly doesn’t push the limitations of DVDs.

Packaging: As opposed to the snapper casing of the Region 1 New Line Edition, the Region 2 is in an amaray casing with no booklet insert; the chapter listings instead being on the reverse of the inlay card and visible due to the transparent amaray.


Commentary With Robert Altman & Michael Tolkin: The two participants are recorded separately and edited together to form one commentary track. Both are quite dry talking, and there are some long pauses throughout the track, but when Robert Altman does talk he is quite interesting with regards to defending some of the plot points in the film. Tolkin is featured less frequently, and talks about his original novel that the film was based on and some of the differences between the versions of The Player.

Deleted Scenes: Five deleted scenes are included, and these include the scenes in which Jeff Daniels and Patrick Swayze’s entire cameo performances were cut from the movie. The scenes are of little note, other than to film buffs who can carry on from the film’s star-spotting.

One On One With Robert Altman – Featurette: A seventeen minute featurette with Robert Altman discussing to camera why he made the film and his views on the film, along with explanations as to why the deleted scenes from the film were chosen to be deleted. This is interesting to watch, it’s just a pity that the featurette decides to re-show all of the deleted scenes again. Presented in 4:3 fullscreen.

Theatrical Trailer: A funny two minute trailer that manages to promote the more satirical elements of The Player whilst exploiting the many star names in the film.

Whatever it’s ultimate intentions, The Player is excellent entertainment and a good introduction to the world of Robert Altman. The DVD is sparse on the extras side, but the extras that are featured are quite acceptable. The Region 2 version is missing a ‘Star Cameos’ guide that the Region 1 version has, although the picture quality and packaging is better on Region 2. Apologies if the conclusion is more than twenty-five words long.

Raphael Pour-Hashemi

Updated: Dec 28, 2001

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