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The Player is a satirical film directed by Robert Altman from a screenplay by Michael Tolkin based on his own 1988 novel of the same name. A follow-up book, Return of the Player, was later published in 2006.It is the story of Hollywoodmarker studio executive Griffin Mill (Tim Robbins) who gets away with murdering a wannabe screenwriter he believed was sending him death threats.

The film is loaded with movie references and Hollywood insider jokes and functions as a critique of movie business that treats artists poorly and sacrifices quality for commercial success. It might seem surprising that around sixty big Hollywood names agreed to play cameos as themselves in the film but Altman himself insists 'it is a very mild satire' offending no one.

Altman had trouble with the Hollywood studio system in the 1970s after a number of studio films lost money or had trouble finding audiences. The Player was his comeback to making films in Hollywood. The film, and its cast and crew, won a number of awards and nominations. A TV spin-off was created and a pilot shot in 1997. However, the pilot was never picked up.


Griffin Mill (Tim Robbins) is a Hollywood producer with a studio executive girlfriend Bonnie Sherow (Cynthia Stevenson). Mill's job is to hear story pitches from screenwriters and decide which films have the potential to be made into films and which are rejected; 12 out of about 50,000 submissions he claims. His job is suddenly in danger, though, when up-and-coming story executive Larry Levi (Peter Gallagher) begins work at the studio having left 20th Century Fox. Rumors swirl that Mill may be replaced soon by Levi. Griffin has also been receiving threatening postcards, assumed to be from a disgruntled screenwriter whose pitch he rejected, but Mill can't recall who it might be.

Mill delves through records and surmises that the disgruntled writer is David Kahane (Vincent D’Onofrio), who had previously pitched a script to him. Griffin lurks around Kahane's home and is told by Kahane's apparent live-in girlfriend, June (Greta Scacchi), who he watches while talking to her on the phone, that Kahane is at a movie theater watching The Bicycle Thief. Mill goes to the theater in Pasadenamarker, pretends to recognize Kahane in the lobby after the film and offers him a scriptwriting deal, hoping this will stop the threats. The two go to a nearby Karaoke bar and have some drinks, whereupon Kahane gets intoxicated and rebuffs Griffin’s offer; he points out that Mill came in for only the last five minutes of The Bicycle Thief, and denies responsibility for sending Griffin any postcards. Kahane leaves the bar followed by Mill, Kahane then continues goading Griffin about his job security at the studio. Kahane pushes Griffin in the parking lot and the two men scuffle. In a rage, Mill accidentally kills Kahane. Thinking fast, Griffin makes the death look like a robbery gone wrong.

The next day at work, he receives another postcard, confirming that his stalking writer is still at large. Mill attends Kahane’s funeral and gets along with June, Kahane’s girlfriend; she knows none of the other mourners. Studio chief of security Walter Stuckel (Fred Ward) confronts Griffin about the murder and says that Pasadena Police know Griffin was the last one to see Kahane alive. Pasadena detectives Susan Avery (Whoopi Goldberg) and DeLongpre (Lyle Lovett) suspect that Griffin is guilty of murder. They question him and DeLongpre starts to keep an eye on Griffin. Griffin receives a postcard from the stalking writer suggesting they meet one evening at a club. While Griffin is waiting, he's cornered by two aspiring (and annoying) screenwriters who make a story pitch for Habeas Corpus, a film that would feature no major stars, coupled with a depressing ending. Leaving the club, Mill receives a fax from the stalking writer in his Range Rover, who advises him to look under his raincoat, whereupon Griffin discovers a live rattlesnake in a box, causing a near-death experience that makes Griffin realize how he has sudden and deep feelings for June. Persuading Bonnie to leave for New York on studio business (a task he would normally handle), Griffin takes June to a Hollywood awards banquet and their relationship blooms.

Meanwhile, apprehensive that Levi continues to encroach on his job, Griffin sees an opportunity to save his position. Griffin phones Levi and allows the two writers to pitch Habeas Corpus. However, Griffin manages to convince Levi that the scenario is good and the movie will be a guaranteed Oscar contender. Griffin plans to let Levi shepherd the film through production and have it flop miserably. Then Griffin will step in at the last moment and suggest some basic changes to salvage the film’s box office potential, letting him reclaim his position at the studio. Griffin asks June to go away with him to Acapulco, and Bonnie soons confronts Griffin about his relationship with June. At the airport, Griffin discovers Det. DeLongpre with police officers patrolling the terminal. He quickly suggests a change of plans to June, and the pair head for an exclusive and isolated desert resort and spa. During their weekend, Griffin and June consummate their relationship. Griffin later receives a call from his attorney, who informs him that studio head Joel Levinson (Brion James) has been fired, and the police want Griffin back in Pasadena immediately to participate in a police lineup when it appears that an eyewitness has come forward who claims to have seen the murder and can supposedly identify the assailant. However, Griffin gains a reprieve when the witness identifies the wrong man, Detective DeLongpre, who was placed in the lineup with the other suspects.

One year later, studio power players are watching the end of Habeas Corpus with its tacked-on upbeat ending. Griffin’s plan to "save" the movie worked like a charm and he is now head of the studio. Bonnie objects to the crass nature of the changes and is promptly fired, a decision that Griffin does not overule and rebuffs Bonnie when she tries appealing to him personally about her termination. While driving home, he receives a pitch over the phone from 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. Griffin recognizes the pitch as blackmail and immediately agrees to give the writer a deal. The writer’s title for the film is The Player. The movie ends by showing that June is now Griffin's wife and heavily pregnant with his child.


Altman had troubles with the Hollywood studio system in the '70s 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 '70s and throughout the '80s, 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 (though FLF in itself was a division of New Line Cinema, Fine Line was reorganized into Picturehouse in 2005). 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 tracking shot

The opening tracking shot lasts 7 minutes and 47 seconds without a single camera break. Fifteen takes were required to shoot this scene, which pays homage to Orson Welles' Touch of Evil and Alfred Hitchcock's Rope (which are both mentioned during the scene).


Few of the many cameos in the film were planned in advance. Because the movie was shot in several Hollywoodmarker locations that film industry figures frequent, most of the cameos were just coincidences and the actors improvised their lines. Most of the actors received no payment for their cameo appearances.

Hollywood people who play themselves in the movie include:


Altman won a number of European best-director awards (the BAFTA, Best Director at the 1992 Cannes Film Festival) 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 Best Actor at the Cannes Film Festival.


  1. Tolkin, Michael, "The Player", 1st ed., New York : Atlantic Monthly Press, 1988. ISBN 0871132281
  2. Tolkin, Michael, The Return of the Player, 1st ed., New York : Grove Press, 2006. ISBN 0802118011
  3. DVD commentary on The Player.

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