''The Player'' is a 1992 American
Satire is a genre of the visual, literary, and performing arts, usually in the form of fiction and less frequently non-fiction, in which vices, follies, abuses, and shortcomings are held up to ridicule, often with the intent of shaming or ... black comedy
Black comedy, also known as dark comedy, morbid humor, or gallows humor, is a style of comedy that makes light of subject matter that is generally considered taboo, particularly subjects that are normally considered serious or painful to disc ...
film directed by
Robert Bernard Altman ( ; February 20, 1925 – November 20, 2006) was an American film director, screenwriter, and producer. He was a five-time nominee of the Academy Award for Best Director and is considered an enduring figure from the New H ...
and written by
Michael L. Tolkin (born October 17, 1950) is an American filmmaker and novelist. He has written numerous screenplays, including '' The Player'' (1992), which he adapted from his own 1988 novel of the same name,Tolkin, Michael"The Player" 1st ed., ...
, based on his own 1988 novel of the same name. The film stars
Timothy Francis Robbins (born October 16, 1958) is an American actor and filmmaker. He is known for portraying Andy Dufresne in the film '' The Shawshank Redemption ''(1994), and has won an Academy Award and two Golden Globe Awards for his role ...
, Greta Scacchi
Freddie Joe Ward (December 30, 1942 – May 8, 2022) was an American actor and producer. Starting with a role in an Italian television movie in 1973, he appeared in such diverse films as '' Escape from Alcatraz'', '' Southern Comfort'', '' The ...
Caryn Elaine Johnson (born November 13, 1955), known professionally as Whoopi Goldberg (), is an American actor, comedian, author, and television personality.Kuchwara, Michael (AP Drama Writer)"Whoopi Goldberg: A One-Woman Character Parade". ' ...
, Peter Gallagher
, Brion James
and Cynthia Stevenson
, and is the story of a Hollywood
A film studio (also known as movie studio or simply studio) is a major entertainment company or motion picture company that has its own privately owned studio facility or facilities that are used to make films, which is handled by the production ...
executive who kills an aspiring screenwriter he believes is sending him death threats.
''The Player'' has many film references and Hollywood in-jokes, with 65 celebrities making
A cameo role, also called a cameo appearance and often shortened to just cameo (), is a brief appearance of a well-known person in a work of the performing arts. These roles are generally small, many of them non-speaking ones, and are commonly eit ...
s in the film. Altman once stated that the film "is a very mild satire," offending no one.
[DVD commentary on ''The Player''.]
The film received three nominations at the
65th Academy Awards
The 65th Academy Awards ceremony, presented by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS), honored films released in 1992 in the United States and took place on March 29, 1993, at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles begi ...
: Best Director
, Best Adapted Screenplay
and Best Editing
. The film also won two
The Golden Globe Awards are accolades bestowed by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association beginning in January 1944, recognizing excellence in both American and international film and television. Beginning in 2022, there are 105 members of t ...
, Best Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical
and Best Actor – Comedy or Musical
Griffin Mill is a Hollywood
studio executive dating story editor Bonnie Sherow. He hears story pitches from
A screenplay writer (also called screenwriter, scriptwriter, scribe or scenarist) is a writer who practices the craft of screenwriting, writing screenplays on which mass media, such as films, television programs and video games, are based.
s 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 threatened when up-and-coming story executive Larry Levy begins working at the studio. Mill has also been receiving death threat postcards, assumed to be from a screenwriter whose pitch he rejected.
Mill surmises that the disgruntled writer is David Kahane, and Kahane's girlfriend June Gudmundsdottir tells him that Kahane is at the Rialto Theater
, at a screening of ''
''Bicycle Thieves'' ( it, Ladri di biciclette; sometimes known in the United States as ''The Bicycle Thief'') is a 1948 Italian neorealist drama film directed by Vittorio De Sica. It follows the story of a poor father searching in post-World Wa ...
''. Mill pretends 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 where Kahane gets intoxicated and rebuffs Mill's offer, calling him a liar and continuing to goad him about his job security at the studio. In the bar's parking lot, the two men fight. Mill goes too far and drowns Kahane in a shallow pool of water while screaming, “Keep it to yourself!” Mill then stages the crime to make it look like a botched robbery.
The next day, after Mill is late for and distracted at a meeting, studio chief of security Walter Stuckel confronts him about the murder and says that the police know that he was the last one to see Kahane alive. At the end of their conversation 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 into conversation with Gudmundsdottir. Detectives Avery and DeLongpre suspect Mill is guilty of murder.
Mill receives a postcard from the stalker suggesting that they meet at a hotel bar. While Mill is waiting, he is cornered by two screenwriters, Tom Oakley and Andy Sivella, who pitch ''Habeas Corpus'', a legal drama featuring no major stars and with a depressing ending. Because Mill is not alone, his stalker does not appear. After leaving the bar, Mill receives a fax in his car, advising him to look under his raincoat. He discovers a live rattlesnake in a box and, terrified, bludgeons it with his umbrella.
Mill tells Gudmundsdottir that his near-death experience made him realize he has feelings for her. 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. Having persuaded Sherow to leave for New York on studio business, Mill takes Gudmundsdottir to a Hollywood awards banquet and their relationship blossoms.
After Sherow confronts Mill about his relationship with Gudmundsdottir, Mill coldly severs their relationship in front of two writers. Mill takes Gudmundsdottir to an isolated Desert Hot Springs
resort and spa. In the middle of Mill and Gudmundsdottir making love, Mill confesses his role in Kahane's murder, and Gudmundsdottir responds by saying she loves him. Mill's attorney informs him that studio head Joel Levison has been fired, and that the Pasadena police want Mill to participate in a lineup
. An eyewitness has come forward, but she fails to identify Mill.
One year later, studio power players are watching the end of ''Habeas Corpus'' with a new, tacked-on, upbeat Hollywood ending and famous actors in the lead roles. Mill's plan to save the movie has worked and he is head of the studio. Gudmundsdottir is now Mill's wife and pregnant with his child. Sherow objects to the film's new ending and is fired by Levy. Mill rebuffs her 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. Impressed, Mill gives the writer a deal, if he can guarantee a happy ending in which the executive lives happily with the writer's widow. 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. Chevy Chase
was interested in playing the role of Griffin Mill, but Warner Bros didn't want Chase to star in the film.
Although it was distributed by Fine Line Features
rather than a major studio (FLF was a division of
New Line Cinema
New Line Cinema is an American film production studio owned by Warner Bros. Discovery and is a film label of Warner Bros. It was founded in 1967 by Robert Shaye as an independent film distribution company; later becoming a film studio after a ...
), ''The Player'' was Altman's comeback to making films in Hollywood.
It ushered in a new period of filmmaking for him, and he continued on to an adaptation of
Raymond Clevie Carver Jr. (May 25, 1938 – August 2, 1988) was an American short story writer and poet. He contributed to the revitalization of the American short story during the 1980s.
Carver was born in Clatskanie, Oregon, a mi ...
's short stories, '' Short Cuts
Opening sequence shot
The opening sequence shot
lasts 7 minutes and 47 seconds without an edit. Fifteen takes were required to shoot this scene,
but, according to the slate at the beginning of the shot, the tenth take was used in the final edit.
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
In film, nudity may be either graphic or suggestive, such as when a person appears to be naked but is covered by a sheet. Since the birth of film, depictions of any form of sexuality have been controversial, and in the case of most nude scene ...
, but that it was her refusal which led to the final form.
The editing of ''The Player'' by Geraldine Peroni was honored by a nomination for the
Academy Award for Best Film Editing
The Academy Award for Best Film Editing is one of the annual awards of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS). Nominations for this award are closely correlated with the Academy Award for Best Picture. For 33 consecutive years, ...
. In 2004, Tony Sloman
wrote an appreciation of the film's editing:
Rotten Tomatoes is an American review-aggregation website for film and television. The company was launched in August 1998 by three undergraduate students at the University of California, Berkeley: Senh Duong, Patrick Y. Lee, and Stephen Wan ...
, the film has an approval rating of 98% based on 65 reviews, with an average rating of 8.80/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "Bitingly cynical without succumbing to bitterness, ''The Player'' is one of the all-time great Hollywood satires — and an ensemble-driven highlight of the Altman oeuvre." On
Metacritic is a website that aggregates reviews of films, TV shows, music albums, video games and formerly, books. For each product, the scores from each review are averaged (a weighted average). Metacritic was created by Jason Dietz, Marc ...
, the film has a score of 86 out of 100, based on 20 critics, indicating "universal acclaim."
Roger Joseph Ebert (; June 18, 1942 – April 4, 2013) was an American film critic, film historian, journalist, screenwriter, and author. He was a film critic for the ''Chicago Sun-Times'' from 1967 until his death in 2013. In 1975, Ebert beca ...
gave the film a full four stars out of four and called it "a smart movie, and a funny one. It is also absolutely of its time. After the savings and loan scandals, after Michael Milken
, after junk bonds and stolen pension funds, here is a movie that uses Hollywood as a metaphor for the avarice of the 1980s. It is the movie '' The Bonfire of the Vanities
'' wanted to be."
Eugene Kal Siskel (January 26, 1946 – February 20, 1999) was an American film critic and journalist for the ''Chicago Tribune''. Along with colleague Roger Ebert, he hosted a series of movie review programs on television from 1975 until his d ...
also gave the film a perfect four-star grade and wrote, "If you knew nothing and cared nothing about the movie business, you can still appreciate ''The Player'' as a ripping good thriller, too."
Vincent Canby (July 27, 1924 – October 15, 2000) was an American film and theatre critic who served as the chief film critic for '' The New York Times'' from 1969 until the early 1990s, then its chief theatre critic from 1994 until his death i ...
The New York Times
''The New York Times'' (''the Times'', ''NYT'', or the Gray Lady) is a daily newspaper based in New York City with a worldwide readership reported in 2020 to comprise a declining 840,000 paid print subscribers, and a growing 6 million paid ...
'' wrote, "Robert Altman has not really been away. Yet his new Hollywood satire titled 'The Player' is so entertaining, so flip and so genially irreverent that it seems to announce the return of the great gregarious film maker whose ''
Nashville is the capital city of the U.S. state of Tennessee and the seat of Davidson County. With a population of 689,447 at the 2020 U.S. census, Nashville is the most populous city in the state, 21st most-populous city in the U.S., and t ...
'' remains one of the classics of the 1970's.
of '' Variety
'' wrote, "Mercilessly satiric yet good-natured, this enormously entertaining slam dunk represents a remarkable American come-back for eternal maverick Robert Altman." Terrence Rafferty
The New Yorker
''The New Yorker'' is an American weekly magazine featuring journalism, commentary, criticism, essays, fiction, satire, cartoons, and poetry. Founded as a weekly in 1925, the magazine is published 47 times annually, with five of these issues ...
'' called it "a brilliant dark comedy about the death of American filmmaking," adding, "In this picture Altman is doing one of his specialties: exploring an odd American subculture—revealing its distinctive textures and explicating the peculiar principles of social intercourse which keep it functioning. But when his idiosyncratic style of anthropological realism is applied to the tight community of Hollywood 'players' it has an almost hallucinatory effect." Peter Rainer of the ''
Los Angeles Times
The ''Los Angeles Times'' (abbreviated as ''LA Times'') is a daily newspaper that started publishing in Los Angeles in 1881. Based in the LA-adjacent suburb of El Segundo since 2018, it is the sixth-largest newspaper by circulation in the U ...
'' wrote that "Altman has made a movie that's supremely deft and pleasurable. As if to taunt his detractors, he even 'tells a story' this time, and he does a better job of it than the hacks who have been getting work when he couldn't."
''The Player'' was placed on 80 critics' year-end best lists, second only to ''
''Howards End'' is a novel by E. M. Forster, first published in 1910, about social conventions, codes of conduct and relationships in turn-of-the-century England. ''Howards End'' is considered by many to be Forster's masterpiece. The book wa ...
'' in 1992.
Awards and nominations
In 2015, ''
''Entertainment Weekly'' (sometimes abbreviated as ''EW'') is an American digital-only entertainment magazine based in New York City, published by Dotdash Meredith, that covers film, television, music, Broadway theatre, books, and popular cult ...
''s 25th anniversary year, it named ''The Player'' in its list of the 25 best movies since the magazine's beginnings.
''Rolling Stone'' is an American monthly magazine that focuses on music, politics, and popular culture. It was founded in San Francisco, California, in 1967 by Jann Wenner, and the music critic Ralph J. Gleason. It was first known for its cov ...
listed ''The Player'' as one of the best movies of the 90's.
* List of films featuring fictional films
* ''The Screenplayer''
an essay by Sam Wasson at the
The Criterion Collection, Inc. (or simply Criterion) is an American home-video distribution company that focuses on licensing, restoring and distributing "important classic and contemporary films." Criterion serves film and media scholars, cine ...
1990s black comedy films
American black comedy films
American satirical films
BAFTA winners (films)
Best Musical or Comedy Picture Golden Globe winners
Edgar Award-winning works
1990s English-language films
Films based on American novels
Films directed by Robert Altman
Films featuring a Best Musical or Comedy Actor Golden Globe winning performance
Films set in Los Angeles
Films shot in California
Films shot in Los Angeles
Independent Spirit Award for Best Film winners
Films about Hollywood, Los Angeles
Films scored by Thomas Newman
Films whose director won the Best Direction BAFTA Award
Films whose writer won the Best Adapted Screenplay BAFTA Award
Films produced by David Brown
Films with screenplays by Michael Tolkin
Spelling Films films
1992 comedy films
Films about filmmaking
Films about film directors and producers
Films about screenwriters
1990s American films
1992 independent films
American independent films