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.
- 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, Whoopi Goldberg, Anjelica Huston, Jeff Goldblum, Malcolm McDowell, Jack Lemmon, Burt Reynolds, Julia Roberts, Susan Sarandon, Bruce Willis,... and that's just a few. Most of whom worked for nothing; if they were charged their normal asking prices, the film's budget would've ballooned to $100 million+.
- The guy proposing a sequel to The Graduate was one of the original screenwriters of that film.
- 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. You know, our hero.
- 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.
- Defictionalization: Attempted; according to Michael Tolkin, a production company tried to have him option a real life version of Habeas Corpus.
- 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 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: Mocked; 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.
- 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 Nineties: 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; see They Plotted a Perfectly Good Waste.
- 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: Many of the film's motifs mirror that of the in-film movie the executives are tampering with. Not only do both have a "Hollywood ending", but they also have big-name actors and arbitrary sex.
- Throw It In: The cameo stars improvised their lines.
- Writers Suck: At best, they're too busy making pitches to actually write screenplays. At worst, they're outright murderers. (Not that anyone else in the business looks any better.)
- X Meets Y: The pitches Griffin hears inevitably get simplified into something familiar, like "The Gods Must Be Crazy except the coke bottle is an actress," or "Ghost meets The Manchurian Candidate."