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The Player: The Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review

The Player (1992) movie poster The Player

Theatrical Release: April 10, 1992 / Running Time: 124 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: Robert Altman / Writer: Michael Tolkin (novel and screenplay)

Cast: Tim Robbins (Griffin Mill), Greta Scacchi (June Gudmunsdottir), Fred Ward (Walter Stuckel), Whoopi Goldberg (Detective Avery), Peter Gallagher (Larry Levy), Brion James (Joel Levison), Cynthia Stevenson (Bonnie Sherow), Vincent D'Onofrio (David Kahane), Dean Stockwell (Andy Civella), Richard E. Grant (Tom Oakley), Dina Merrill (Celia), Angela Hall (Jan), Lyle Lovett (Detective DeLongpre), Sydney Pollack (Dick Mellon), Paul Hewitt (Jimmy Chase), Randall Batinkoff (Reg Goldman), Jeremy Piven (Steve Reeves), Gina Gershon (Whitney Gersh) / As Themselves: Steve Allen, Richard Anderson, Rene Auberjonois, Harry Belafonte, Shari Belafonte, Karen Black, Michael Bowen, Gary Busey, Robert Carradine, Charles Champlin, Cher, James Coburn, Cathy Lee Crosby, John Cusack, Brad Davis, Paul Dooley, Thereza Ellis, Peter Falk, Felicia Farr, Katarzyna Figura, Louise Fletcher, Dennis Franz, Teri Garr, Leeza Gibbons, Scott Glenn, Jeff Goldblum, Elliott Gould, Joel Grey, David Alan Grier, Buck Henry, Anjelica Huston, Kathy Ireland, Steve James, Maxine John-James, Sally Kellerman, Sally Kirkland, Jack Lemmon, Marlee Matlin, Andie MacDowell, Malcolm McDowell, Jayne Meadows, Martin Mull, Jennifer Nash, Nick Nolte, Alexandra Powers, Bert Remsen, Guy Remsen, Patricia Resnick, Burt Reynolds, Jack Riley, Julia Roberts, Mimi Rogers, Annie Ross, Alan Rudolph, Jill St. John, Susan Sarandon, Adam Simon, Rod Steiger, Joan Tewkesbury, Brian Tochi, Lily Tomlin, Robert Wagner, Ray Walston, Bruce Willis, Marvin Young

Buy The Player from Amazon.com: Criterion Blu-ray • Criterion DVD

Michael Tolkin's 1988 novel about Hollywood might have been long forgotten by now, had Tolkin not gotten a chance to adapt the book for director Robert Altman.
Instead, The Player (1992) is held up as perhaps Hollywood's greatest self-satire and a cynical but honest look at how the filmmaking industry operates.

Griffin Mill (Tim Robbins) is a powerful young producer and executive at one of the major movie studios, whose name we never get but whose age-old slogan is "Movies...now more than ever." In his office every day, he sits and hears pitches like The Graduate: Part II (from scribe Buck Henry himself) and "Out of Africa meets Pretty Woman." Thousands of proposals come his way, but the studio can only say "yes" twelve times a year and they look for elements that ensure marketability and some degree of success.

Most pitching movies to Griffin come away disappointed, including the unknown would-be screenwriter who has been sending him a series of postcards with death threats, anonymously hand-delivered at the various spots the executive goes for meetings. Besides this unknown enemy, Griffin also has to fear that his job may be in jeopardy, with rumors that the studio is bringing in rising go-getter Larry Levy (Peter Gallagher) to replace him.

Griffin Mill (Tim Robbins) takes a drop of Binaca in "The Player."

Griffin can't do anything about getting fired, but he can try to make those postcards stop. Thinking he knows the source of them, he heads to the Rialto Theatre in Pasadena for a late night showing of The Bicycle Thief. There, he meets rejected screenwriter David Kahane (Vincent D'Onofrio). Their talks do not go as planned, though, and when all is said and done, Kahane is dead and Griffin is to blame.

Pasadena police (led by Whoopi Goldberg) question the exec about the screenwriter's death and start having one detective (Lyle Lovett) tail him. While suspicion starts to form around him, Griffin tries to keep working, to keep his job, and to get better acquainted with June Gudmunsdottir (Greta Scacchi), the Icelandic artist that was Kahane's girlfriend.

The Player opens with an uninterrupted 8-minute take at the studio, weaving between movie pitches, gofer deliveries, and inside Hollywood studio exec banter. Grosses are mentioned, stars are envisioned for roles by first name alone, and cynicism pervades. Movies are not just popular entertainment but art, Griffin asserts in a keynote speech at a lavish star-studded event. But, we see repeatedly that movies are a business and one which stifle creativity with test screenings, the needs for stars and happy endings, "25 words or less" pitches, and a general aversion to risk.

Pasadena police detective Avery (Whoopi Goldberg) isn't convinced of Griffin's innocence in a screenwriter's death.

Altman knew the industry as well as anyone. By 1992, he had been working in Hollywood for over forty years, starting with documentaries, shorts, and television, and then eventually finding his calling as a director of intelligent, sophisticated, mature cinema.
Altman made his name in the 1970s on movies like M*A*S*H and Nashville. His career stalled somewhat after his attempt at making a big studio picture, 1980's Popeye, floundered by most regards (though the movie grossed the equivalent of $160 M today). A number of small, sparsely-attended films followed. Altman's experiences with producers, financiers, and studio execs no doubt shape The Player, which would become the director's widest release since Popeye.

Altman's body of work was enough to attract an almost unfathomable volume of accomplished Hollywood figures appearing as themselves. Making Entourage look like child's play, The Player boasts nearly a hundred celebrity cameos. Rod Steiger, Harry Belafonte, Jack Lemmon, Burt Reynolds, Jeff Goldblum, John Cusack, Cher, Julia Roberts, Bruce Willis, Susan Sarandon, Joel Grey, Andie MacDowell, Malcolm McDowell, Young MC. The list goes on and on and on. IMDb's Trivia page claims this is the greatest assembly of Academy Award winners in any movie. These entertainers do not appear to sell tickets or bolster their brands. They're there to give us a convincing look at Hollywood's inner spheres (and maybe to say that they got to work with Robert Altman). The cameos do not distract but complement and add realism to the setting and atmosphere the movie does a fine job of establishing and developing.

Altman finds the right blend of cynicism and creativity to make The Player more than just a scathing satire or silly send-up. There is weight to both the story and to industry depictions to make The Player something of worth. It's an entertaining art film, something there aren't too many of, and it sharpened Altman's skills (and connections) to allow him to follow with the even better (and similarly cast) Short Cuts.

Despite opening in April, far from the awards season, The Player still managed to draw Oscar nominations for Adapted Screenplay, Director, and Editing. Although it would lose all three (to Howards End, Clint Eastwood, and Unforgiven), the movie did defeat Aladdin to win Best Picture - Comedy or Musical at the Golden Globes, whose Best Actor in a Comedy or Musical award went to Robbins.

Twenty-four years after its widest expansion, The Player reaches Blu-ray this week from The Criterion Collection, who have assigned it spine number 812 in separate Blu-ray and DVD editions.

The Player: The Criterion Collection Blu-ray Disc cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

1.85:1 Widescreen
2.0 DTS-HD MA Surround (English)
Subtitles: English
Extras Not Subtitled; Not Closed Captioned
Suggested Retail Price: $39.95
Release Date: May 24, 2016
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (BD-50)
Clear Keepcase
Also available as 2-disc DVD ($29.95 SRP)
Previously released as Warner Blu-ray (September 7, 2010) and Special Edition DVD (July 16, 1997)


Typical for Criterion, The Player looks great on Blu-ray. The 1.85:1 transfer stays sharp and clean throughout. The 2.0 DTS-HD master audio soundtrack does not command much notice, but it presents all the dialogue and music crisply and evenly.

A white-haired Tim Robbins looks back at "The Player" in "Planned Improvisation." Robert Altman discusses "The Player" in this 1992 interview. Author-screenwriter Michael Tolkin is among those on hand who is actually asked questions at the Cannes '92 press conference.


The Blu-ray's extras begin with an audio commentary by Robert Altman, writer Michael Tolkin, and cinematographer Jean Lιpine produced back in 1992. They were recorded separately and are patched together here.
Each party provides a unique perspective on the film and valuable insight into their approach to it. There are few lulls and the different layers keep this flowing well.

Video extras, all encoded in HD, begin with "Planned Improvisation" (45:53), a new documentary about the making of The Player which features interviews with Tim Robbins, Tolkin, production designer Stephen Altman (the director's son), and associate producer David Levy. They all describe how the film came together with Altman as a hired gun, uncertain financing, and a mix of improvisation with careful planning.

Criterion's 1992 interview of Robert Altman (21:00) gathers the director's thoughts on the movie as well as the industry it portrays and the bigger business and societal issues it comments upon. Some of it has already featured in the commentary, but this is obviously a lot more succinct.

"Cannes Press Conference" (55:50) lives up to its title. Led by a snippy and bilingual Henri Behar, the 1992 film festival's post-screening panel features Robert Altman, Michael Tolkin, Tim Robbins, Whoopi Goldberg, Dina Merrill, Brion James, producer David Brown, executive producer Cary Brokaw, and Stephen Altman answering questions from international journalists. It's an interesting viewing, albeit one you might not opt to endure in full. Highlights include Altman repeatedly bemoaning commerce being placed above art, Goldberg defending Jumpin' Jack Flash and her other work and teasing Wayne's World.

Elliot Gould is among "Robert Altman's Players" yet again. "Map to the Stars" points out the actors who play themselves in "The Player." Dr. Patrick Swayze talks fighting with Walter (Fred Ward) in this deleted scene.

"Robert Altman's Players" (15:47) is a short documentary by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art on the film's July 1991 filming of a star-studded fundraiser event at LACMA.

"Map to the Stars" points out 65 actors and writers who feature in the film as themselves, in the order of their appearance. It's a nifty feature, especially since some of these cameos are easily missed.

Under Deleted Scenes/Outtakes, we get five deleted scenes (which include appearances by otherwise-absent Jeff Daniels and Patrick Swayze playing doctors in a movie plus Martha Plimpton, Franco Neri, Seymour Cassel, Richard Edson, Tim Curry, and producer David Brown) as well as tense outtakes from Lily Tomlin and Scott Glenn's noir-within-the-noir The Lonely Room. Altogether, the footage runs 13 minutes and 26 seconds, though a "Play All" option is missing.

Nick Nolte appears in The Player's Japanese theatrical trailer. The top menu of the Criterion Collection's Blu-ray utilizes gold-tinted poster art.

The film's impressive, ambitious, uninterrupted opening shot (8:11) is presented with two alternate audio commentaries:
one by Robert Altman, the other by Michael Tolkin and Jean Lιpine.

The on-disc extras conclude with the film's U.S. trailer (2:04), Japanese trailer (1:58) with profanity, and four TV spots (1:53), the last of which is Japanese.

The menu plays an excerpt of Thomas Newman score over a collage of posters for the film. Of course, Criterion authors the disc to support bookmarking on the film and resume playback of everything.

Inside the thick clear keepcase, whose inside displays further artwork, we find a thin, tastefully illustrated booklet that opens up to 12 pages. Half of those go to "The Screenplayer", a well-informed new essay by author/historian Sam Wasson about the film. The other six provide standard information regarding the disc, its transfer, and the film's makers.

Larry Levy (Peter Gallagher), Griffin's threat of a replacement, poses the concept of doing away with writers and pulling movie ideas straight from the news.


Though very much a snapshot of 1992 Hollywood, The Player holds up as a sharp, creative, and fairly timeless satire of the filmmaking business. With substantial extras and a fine feature presentation, Criterion's Blu-ray does not disappoint in any way.

Buy The Player from Amazon.com: Criterion Blu-ray / Criterion DVD

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Related Reviews:
Directed by Robert Altman: Nashville • 3 Women • Popeye | Written by Michael Tolkin: Nine
Hollywood: Sunset Blvd. • Tropic Thunder • Trumbo • Ed Wood • The Rocketeer • Galaxy Quest • Entourage
1990s on Blu-ray: Singles • The Game • The Grifters • Goodfellas
Tim Robbins: The Spoils of Babylon • Top Gun | Vincent D'Onofrio: Men in Black | Greta Scacchi: Brideshead Revisited
Whoopi Goldberg: Sister Act & Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit
New to Disc: Zoolander • Zapped! • The Witch

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Reviewed May 23, 2016.

Text copyright 2016 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 1992 Fine Line Features, Avenue Pictures, Spelling Entertainment, and 2016 The Criterion Collection.
Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.