Literature: The Player

"No stars, just talent."
Griffin Mill

A 1988 satirical novel by Michael Tolkin, The Player was brought to the screen in 1992 by Robert Altman with a screenplay also by Tolkin. The film version starred Tim Robbins, Peter Gallagher and a ton of stars as themselves.

Griffin Mill is a sleazy studio executive whose job it is to decide which screenplays get produced. He finds his life threatened by a stalker, supposedly a screenwriter whose pitch he once rejected. In a confrontation with a disgruntled screenwriter he believes to be the stalker, they escalate into a fight and Griffin accidentally kills the other man. Naturally, this is where things go to hell for Griffin, not helped by not being certain he was the right man in the first place.

The film is incredibly self-referential that attacks the film industry and the Development Hell each film has to go through to get made. It drops you into the social atmosphere of Hollywood and is ultimately an inverted murder mystery, with a man worried about his evil act being discovered.


  • Anti-Hero
  • Artistic License Geography: The Rialto Theatre, where Griffin kills the writer, is a real theatre in the city of South Pasadena, California. South Pasadena is distinct from it's neighbor to the north, Pasadena, both of which have seperate city halls and police departments. Yet it's the detectives on Pasadena's police force who are asking Griffin questions about what happened at the Rialto. Justified, as keeping the distinction between the cities would have just confused any viewers not familar with the Southern California area.
  • Celebrity Cameo: Tons and tons of them: Harry Belafonte, Gary Busey, Cher, James Coburn, Anjelica Huston, Jeff Goldblum, Malcolm McDowell, Jack Lemmon, Burt Reynolds, Julia Roberts, Susan Sarandon, Bruce Willis,... and those are just a handful of the actors. Appearances are also made by well-known producers, screenwriters, and directors. Most of whom worked for nothing; if they were charged their normal asking prices, the film's budget would've exceeded $100 million.
  • Character Name Alias: The blackmailer uses the 'Joe Gillis'; the the name of the narrator character in Sunset Boulevard.
  • Comforting the Widow
  • Conversational Troping: Two guys in the long tracking shot that opens the film talk about other long tracking shots in films.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Griffin Mill and his fellow sleezeball studio execs.
  • Creator Career Self Deprecation: This movie is a very rare example of Hollywood willing to poke fun at themselves. Naturally it was directed by a more independent cineast: Robert Altman.
  • Double Meaning Title: In-Universe, in another context, the literal translation of the proposed "Law Procedural" Habeas Corpus ("produce the corpse") also signifies the fact that the screenwriters are pitching a completely ludicrous idea for a movie that has no chance of being successful. Griffin points out the absurdity of it all when he notes that Tom Oakley's pitch distinctly lacks a Second Act; in the originally proposed story, there wouldn't be any meaningful development of the plot or its main character (the District Attorney) until after a sudden plot twist near the very conclusion. Later studio changes after the film gets produced only take an already absurd premise (for a movie) and make it even stranger.
  • Film Within A Film: We see many being proposed. The most prominent one is called Habeas Corpus.
  • Focus Group Ending: Griffin uses this justification for changing the Downer Ending of Habeas Corpus.
  • Hide Your Pregnancy: Greta Scacchi wears caftans throughout the first part of the movie, as well as being shown soaking in a body-covering mud bath. At the end, she is able to show her pregnancy as it is appropriate to her character at that point in the story.
  • High Concept: Set in the film industry, this is now a textbook for how to make film pitches.
    Griffin: Twenty-five words or less.
  • Horrible Hollywood: In spades.
  • Hyperlink Story
  • Karma Houdini: Griffin gets away with murder, backstabbing and cheapening an artsy film for the sake of profit. The writer who provoked Griffin into committing the murder pulled off his plan without any hitches, and even became Griffin's accomplice by the end.
  • The '90s: The clothes and hair significantly date the film. Also, many of the cameos are by celebrities whose stars have dimmed since 1992, and are less easy to recognize for present-day viewers watching the movie for the first time.
  • The Oner: The opening shot, with improvised dialogue. An homage to Touch of Evil.
  • Oscar Bait: In-universe with Habeas Corpus.
  • Police Lineup: Griffin appears in one, and a witness's mistake lets him get off the hook.
  • Postmodernism: As with many of Altman's films, The Player operates on multiple panes of reality.
  • Red Herring: The writer whom Griffith murdered, as well as Griffith's stalker, who was really a detective attempting to turn Griffith in. The real blackmailer was never revealed.
  • Rouge Angles of Satin: The first death threat we see reads "YOUR DEAD!"
  • They Plotted a Perfectly Good Waste: Inverted and In-Universe. The in-film movie Habeas Corpus, initially pitched for its "reality" is later described by Griffin Mill at one point as a hairbrained idea with "no second act" and no overarching plot or conflict between the setup and its conclusion. This proves true when its later revealed that the original ending was not received well by test audiences, which compelled the studio to fit the premise to their more usual formula. In the end, even the film's writer reverses his initial opinion on bringing "reality" in movies.
    Bonnie: How could you let him sell you out? What about truth? Reality?
    Tom Oakley: What about the way the old ending tested in Canoga Park? Everybody hated it. We re-shot it, now everybody loves it. That's reality!
  • Writers Suck: Pitches become so much more important than finished scripts that Larry Levy arrives at the studio to argue that writers are unnecessary to the filmmaking process; anybody can just spin a story pitch out of a newspaper article and plug in a simple, easy to understand formula.
    Bonnie: "Further Bond Losses Push Dow Down 7.15." I see Connery as Bond.
  • X Meets Y: The pitches Griffin hears inevitably get simplified into something familiar, like "Pretty Woman meets Out of Africa" or "Ghost meets The Manchurian Candidate."