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The Player (film)

The Player
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Robert Altman
Produced by David Brown
Michael Tolkin
Nick Wechsler
Written by Michael Tolkin
Starring Tim Robbins
Greta Scacchi
Fred Ward
Whoopi Goldberg
Peter Gallagher
Brion James
Music by Thomas Newman
Cinematography Jean Lepine
Edited by Geraldine Peroni
Avenue Pictures
Spelling Entertainment
Distributed by Fine Line Features (US) Pathé (UK)
Release dates
  • April 3, 1992 (1992-04-03) (Cleveland)
  • April 10, 1992 (1992-04-10)
Running time
124 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $8 million
Box office $21,706,100

The Player is a 1992 American satirical film directed by Robert Altman from a screenplay by Michael Tolkin based on his own 1988 novel of the same name.[1] It is the story of Hollywood studio executive Griffin Mill (Tim Robbins) who murders an aspiring screenwriter he believed was sending him death threats.

The Player has many film references and Hollywood insider jokes, with around sixty Hollywood celebrities agreeing to make cameo appearances in the film. Altman stated, "It is a very mild satire," offending no one.[2]


Griffin Mill (Tim Robbins) is a Hollywood studio executive dating story editor Bonnie Sherow (Cynthia Stevenson). He hears story pitches from screenwriters and decides which have the potential to be made into films, green-lighting only 12 out of 50,000 submissions every year. His job is endangered when up-and-coming story executive Larry Levy (Peter Gallagher) begins working at the studio. Mill has also been receiving death-threatening postcards, assumed to be from a screenwriter whose pitch he rejected.

Mill surmises that the disgruntled writer is David Kahane (Vincent D’Onofrio). Mill lurks around Kahane's home and is told by Kahane's girlfriend, June Gudmundsdottir (Greta Scacchi), whom he watches while talking to her on the phone, that Kahane is at a showing of The Bicycle Thief. Mill goes to the theater in Pasadena, pretending to recognize Kahane in the lobby, and offers him a scriptwriting deal, hoping this will stop the threats. The two go to a nearby bar and have some drinks. Kahane gets intoxicated and rebuffs Mill’s offer; he calls Mill a liar, pointing out that he knows Mill didn't really go to the theater to see The Bicycle Thief because Kahane saw Mill wander in late and only catch the last five minutes of it. He also denies responsibility for sending Mill the postcards. Kahane continues goading Mill about his job security at the studio. In the bar's parking lot, the two men fight. Suddenly enraged, Mill goes too far and accidentally drowns Kahane in a shallow pool of water, then makes it appear as though Kahane died during a botched robbery.

The next day, Mill receives a fax from his stalker. Thus, Mill has killed the wrong man, and the stalker apparently knows this. Mill attends Kahane’s funeral and gets along with June; she knows none of the other mourners. Studio chief of security Walter Stuckel (Fred Ward) confronts Mill about the murder and says that the police know Mill was the last one to see Kahane alive. Detectives Avery (Whoopi Goldberg) and DeLongpre (Lyle Lovett) suspect Mill is guilty of murder. They question him and DeLongpre keeps an eye on him. Mill receives a postcard from the writer suggesting they meet at a hotel bar. While Mill is waiting, he is cornered by two screenwriters, Tom Oakley (Richard E. Grant) and Andy Sivella (Dean Stockwell), who pitch Habeas Corpus, a legal drama featuring no major stars and with a depressing ending. Mill's stalker does not appear, but after leaving the club, Mill receives a fax in his Range Rover from the stalking writer, advising him to look under his raincoat. He discovers a live rattlesnake in a box, which a terrified Mill bludgeons with his umbrella.

Mill tells June that his near-death experience made him realize he has feelings for her. Having persuaded Bonnie to leave for New York on studio business, Mill takes June to a Hollywood awards banquet and their relationship blossoms. Apprehensive that Larry Levy continues encroaching on his job, Mill invites the two writers to pitch Habeas Corpus to him, convincing Levy that the movie will be an Oscar contender. Mill's plan is to let Levy shepherd the film through production and have it flop. Mill will step in at the last moment, suggesting some changes to salvage the film’s box office, letting him reclaim his position at the studio.

Mill asks June to go away with him to Acapulco, and Bonnie confronts him about his new relationship. At the airport, Griffin discovers police officers patrolling the terminal. He pretends to have left his passport at home, so he and June head instead for an isolated Desert Hot Springs resort and spa, consummating their relationship there. Mill confesses his role in Kahane's murder to her, but far from condemning him, June says she loves him. Mill's attorney (Sydney Pollack) informs him that studio head Joel Levison (Brion James) has been fired, and that the Pasadena police want Mill to participate in a lineup. An eyewitness has come forward who claims to have seen the murder. Mill gains a reprieve when the witness fails to identify him in the lineup.

One year later, studio power players are watching the end of Habeas Corpus with a new, tacked-on, upbeat "Hollywood" ending and famed actors in the lead roles. Mill's plan to "save" the movie has worked and he is head of the studio. June is now Griffin's wife and pregnant with his child. Bonnie objects to the changes and is fired by Levy, a decision Griffin does not overrule; he rebuffs Bonnie when she appeals her termination to him. Mill receives a pitch over the phone from Levy and a man who reveals himself as the postcard writer. The man pitches an idea about a studio executive who kills a writer and gets away with murder. Mill recognizes the pitch as blackmail and gives the writer a deal if he can guarantee the executive a happy ending. The writer’s title for the film is The Player.



Altman had troubles with the Hollywood studio system in the 1970s after a number of studio films (McCabe & Mrs. Miller, The Long Goodbye) lost money or had trouble finding audiences despite the critical praise and cult adulation they received. Altman continued to work outside the studios in the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s, often doing small-budget projects or filmed plays to keep his career alive. The Player was a comeback to making films in Hollywood, although it was distributed by Fine Line Features rather than a major studio (FLF was a division of New Line Cinema). It ushered in a new period of filmmaking for Altman, who continued on to an epic adaptation of Raymond Carver's short stories, Short Cuts (1993).

Opening sequence shot

The opening sequence shot lasts 7 minutes and 47 seconds without a single camera break. Fifteen takes were required to shoot this scene,[3] but, according to the slate at the beginning of the shot, the tenth take was used in the final edit.

Intimate scene

Altman was praised for the sex scene in which Robbins and Scacchi were filmed from the neck up. Scacchi later claimed that Altman had wanted a nude scene, but that it was her refusal which led to the final form.[4]


The film received critical acclaim; Altman won a number of European best-director awards (the BAFTA, Best Director at the 1992 Cannes Film Festival)[5] and he was nominated for an Academy Award and a Golden Globe as best director (the film won the Golden Globe for best "comedy or musical"). Tolkin was nominated for a Screenwriting Academy Award, and he received an Edgar Award for Best Motion Picture Screenplay. Geraldine Peroni was nominated for the Academy Award for Film Editing. Tim Robbins also won the Golden Globe for "best actor in a comedy or musical" and the Best Actor at the Cannes Film Festival.[5]

American Film Institute recognition:


  1. ^ Tolkin, Michael, "The Player", 1st ed., New York : Atlantic Monthly Press, 1988. ISBN 0-87113-228-1
  2. ^ DVD commentary on The Player.
  3. ^ J.C. Maçek III (2012-11-09). "The Pragmatic Anarchy of the Long Take". PopMatters. 
  4. ^ "Greta Scacchi: 'I'm done with taking off my clothes on screen'". Daily Telegraph. 25 July 2008. Retrieved 14 October 2012. 
  5. ^ a b "Festival de Cannes: The Player". Retrieved 2009-08-15. 
  6. ^ AFI's 100 Years...100 Laughs Nominees

External links

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