The Player is my favorite film by Robert Altman. It was also the first film I saw by this cinematic master, and I became instantly fascinated at the ripe age of 14 by this super-smart satire of Hollywood and the various entanglements that make up a day in the life of a big time studio executive. Tim Robbins was perfectly cast as a paranoid producer that kills a fledgling screenwriter who he things has been stalking him; this movie frays the nerves while retaining a sly comedic vibe, a tone that’s nearly impossible to pull off. But that’s what Altman and his creative team did, picture after picture – subvert your expectations, play around with genre, and toy with your feelings while delivering a totally unique viewing experience. Michael Tolkin’s acerbic, keep-you-guessing screenplay (based on his book) knew exactly how to nail all of its satirical targets while still providing the viewer with an emotionally complex piece of storytelling with flawed characters who explore genuinely intriguing moral territory.
The cameos are endless and rather hysterical at times, the use of overlapping dialogue is completely brilliant (par for the course with Altman), the sex scene between Robbins and ultra-hot Greta Scacchi is the epitome of steamy, and the roll-call of supporting players is too long of a list to mention here; no stone was left unturned by the casting department. Thomas Newman’s sublime score is both ominous and playful, which is no easy feat, while cinematographer Jean Lepine provided a casual sense of heightened style that’s very much worth studying; the use of zooms are rather remarkable. Geraldine Peroni’s adroit editing juggled multiple characters, endless speaking parts, simultaneous plot threads, and did it all with grace and relaxed confidence. The opening tracking shot is a thing of intricate beauty. Impeccable timing, and unforced humor, while the finale stings in that special way that has made Tinsletown one of the most famous places to dissect and mock – the smart ones get away with it. The somewhat recently released Criterion Blu-ray is perfection.