So far on this blog I’ve documented the career of Robert Altman in the 1970s and also looked at his final Oscar-nominated movie Gosford Park however there’s a big chunk of the director’s work I’m still yet to experience. After the success of M*A*S*H and Nashville in the 1970s, Altman left Hollywood for most of the 1980s only to resurface in the early 1990s with two extremely successful outings which both earned him Best Director nominations.
The first of these was a satirical look at the Hollywood industry that had essentially rejected Altman for the best part of a decade. The film was based on the novel by Michael Tobin and adapted by the author for the big screen whilst the lead role of studio executive Griffin Mill was taken by a man whose directorial work we’ve briefly looked at; Tim Robbins. Robbins’ Mill is a rather egotistical character however at the beginning of the film he fears he’s being replaced by Peter Gallagher’s Larry Levy who has recently been hired by the studio. However Griffin still has bigger things to worry about when he receives a death threat via a post card which he believes has come from a writer whose script he recently rejected. Griffin meets up with the writer David Kahene, with the two men quarrelling which eventually leads to the death of the latter. Whilst Griffin now has to try and avoid being arrested for murder he realises that Kahene wasn’t his stalker and that the person trying to get him is still at large. At the same time various other stories intersect throughout The Player including Griffin’s romance with Kahene’s girlfriend June as well as the studio’s production of a rather worthy legal picture. Things come to a head in a final scene which perfectly sums up The Player as it feels smart, funny and very gripping in equal measure.
As somebody who is a huge movie geek I enjoyed most of what The Player had to offer especially Tobin’s script which I do feel should have earned him the Oscar that year. The insider references were completely brilliant especially those eluding to another film I’ve covered on the blog already; Sunset Boulevard. The Player’s best running gag is that everybody wants to cast either Julia Roberts or Bruce Willis in their movie so it’s not surprise to see them both feature in the film-within-a-film that is Habeus Corpus. Tim Robbins is perfect as the smug Griffin whose world starts to fall apart once he commits murder but at the same time he never uses that air of self-importance. In the hands of a lesser actor I feel that Griffin would just be an unlikeable character but Robbins makes the audience want to stick with him. Of the rest of the cast I felt that Greta Saachi was brilliant as central love interest June and Peter Gallagher gave the right of air of obnoxiousness as Larry Levy. If I had a couple of issues then they lay with the inclusion of numerous cameo appearances some of which felt a little forced. While I liked the inclusion of Andie and Malcolm McDowell in the same scene the use of the likes of Harry Belafonte and Jack Lemmon felt a little lost in the shuffle. Additionally I wasn’t convinced by Whoopi Goldberg’s performance as the police detective investigating Kahene’s murder as it just felt like she was on autopilot.
One thing I was convinced by was Altman’s direction of The Player which was great from start to finish and deservedly saw the director return to prominence. One of Altman’s most prominent contributions to The Player was the inclusion of an opening scene which is completely shot without edits for seven minutes. Of course this being a self-referential film the characters talk about movies that include no cuts at the same time they’re appearing in an uncut scene. Out of all of Altman’s films that I’ve watched up to this point I feel that The Player was possibly the most entertaining due to its zippy narrative and commentary on the Hollywood scene. For that reason I do feel that The Player deserved a nomination for Best Picture and was easily better than either Howard’s End or Scent of a Woman. However if we’re replacing The Player with the one film that failed to get a Best Director nod then that would see A Few Good Men leave the Best Picture category which I for one would be sad about. Ultimately The Player got me excited about seeing more Altman films and so I’m glad that next up we’ve got one last film that earned the man his fourth Best Director nod.