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Monday, February 9, 2009

Altman Gives Hollywood a Comeuppance

The Player (1992)

Robert Altman made The Player in 1992, and it satirizes the movie business that was often quite unfriendly to this talented director (one of my favorites). Tim Robbins plays Griffin Mills, a studio executive who ends up murdering a screenwriter. The film follows Griffin as he woos the screenwriter's lover, listens to movie pitches, and tries to dodge the law.

The movie works best as a satire of the big-studio industry. The movies that are pitched are hilariously ridiculous ("The Graduate Part II," "Out of Africa meets Pretty Woman"). Other movies are pitched as pure independent films and then end up as big-studio schlock. The movie also includes tons of cameos by early 1990s actors- including Cher, Julia Roberts, and Bruce Willis. It's a lot of fun to spot the actors in the scenes. The movie also begins with an 8-minute unbroken tracking shot, a great homage to Orson Welles' Touch of Evil.

The scenes when the detectives try to catch Griffin are also hilarious. Whoopi Goldberg and Lyle Lovett play cops who follow Griffin and take him down a few notches.

The movie is a lot of fun, but I think has lost a little of its bite over the past 15 years. Luckily, I do think the independent film scene is much more vibrant than in the early 1990s. While the big studio offerings have maybe not improved much, I think there is more available for the discerning moviegoer. Not that this negates the point of the movie, but as a faithful moviegoer who is usually able to avoid things that are terrible, I'm not quite as horrified by the workings of the studio system.

A fun movie, but I don't think its held up as well as a few other films from 1992 that I love: Howards End, Unforgiven, and Malcolm X. If you haven't seen any of these, watch them now. Short Cuts, Altman's film from 1993, is coming up soon on my Netflix queue. I saw it many years ago and remember it fondly, so look for the review soon!

Grade: B+

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