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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » The Player (Blu-ray)
The Player (Blu-ray)
Criterion // R // May 24, 2016 // Region A
List Price: $39.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Ryan Keefer | posted May 25, 2016 | E-mail the Author
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Highly Recommended
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The Movie:

There is something that legendary director Robert Altman said in one of the interviews in the bonus material while doing press for The Player that I found interesting; when asked about whatever could be considered a ‘comeback,' Altman said, and I paraphrase, that he just kept making films of varying appeal to him, and following a linear path. That it was the press and the public opinion making an infinitesimal circuitous path around him, and when their paths crossed was when such narratives could be formed. So people might have been waiting and hoping that Altman would ‘return,' and when he did such as in this film, he'd been biding his time for a moment like this and pounced accordingly.

Michael Tolkin (Changing Lanes) wrote the novel and adapted his screenplay for the film as well. Tim Robbins (The Shawshank Redemption) plays Griffin Mill, a studio executive who is seeing Bonnie (Cynthia Davidson, Happiness), and making movies a lot of people see yet few actually respect. He starts to receive threatening messages delivered anonymously, and his quest to find out who's doing it leads his down a road of emotion, violence and manipulation. And that's just the stuff that can be said about it if you don't know anything about the film!

Much about the film has talked about the dozens of famous faces in the film, several dozen, with more Academy Awards and nominations from them than you could shake a stick at. And when I first saw The Player many moons ago, I can remember being dazzled by all these people who were just sitting there or walking around or, in Jack Lemmon's case, playing Christmas songs on the piano for some people. But as I've seen the film occasionally through the years I'll readily admit the cynicism in Hollywood, both as portrayed in the film and as its creeped into my purview, has become more resonant with me through the years. I mean, everyone has an idea about how Hollywood operates, and The Player conveys it well, with parody to the point of devolving into reality, or so it would seem. These folks are cruel, and what's worse is that few are able to be honest with you in the process.

In the meantime, Griffin's ordeal as executed by Robbins is a superb performance. You see confidence from the opening scenes, then you see him slowly put through the wringer when it comes to the threats he gets. You also see him take up a relationship with June (Greta Scacchi, Flightplan), who Altman shoots as a somewhat angelic figure (which to be fair, Scacchi had few challengers in that category at the time), one that Griffin has no reluctance to start a relationship with even as he casts the one aside he has with Bonnie. As Griffin becomes the focus of a criminal investigation led by Detective Avery (Whoopi Goldberg, Toy Story 3), the pressure he feels is palpable as you see the screws turn on him. In a film with tons of stars, Robbins' performance is the one to marvel at.

The rest of the active ensemble in The Player also do excellent work. Fred Ward (Tremors) as Walter, the studio's…'Head of Security,' is a fun romp, as is Brion James (Blade Runner) as Joel Levinson, the studio head at the beginning of the film.

One of the biggest things that makes The Player so fun is that Altman's lifetime of work as an outsider allows the viewer into the universe he's setting up, one of fondness for the movies while skewering many of those behind him. It works in part because the prototypical grimy studio exec type has been around for a while, but mostly it's because Altman takes your preconceived notions about Hollywood and over the course of two hours, says basically, ‘Wait, it's far worse than that, I'm going to show you,' and does so triumphantly.

Finishing the thought at the beginning on Altman, he said that while he was on that linear path, he also said, and I think The Player proved, that he wasn't gone, and never really left. He was just biding his time like any good person willing to poke his thumb in the eye of the establishment, his was just bigger than anyone's out there.

The Blu-ray:
The Video:

A new transfer was created for Criterion's The Player, using a 35mm print for reference according to the booklet in the disc, and the Blu-ray looks great. Film grain is present from the opening moments when you look at the painting in the studio office, colors look great, particularly the shot where Griffin and June drive down to the California hot springs and the windmills against a sunset look exceptional. Image detail is also impressive too; whether it's layers of paint on June's phone or in textures, detail is very much the pleasant surprise in the transfer.

The Sound:

The Dolby DTS-HD Master Audio two-channel surround track was remaster from the original surround track and also sounds good. The score is clear from the opening moments and possesses fine clarity. During the funeral sequence, you can hear the echoing of the eulogy, which gradually diminishes as Griffin gets closer to it. Dialogue is consistent through the film and it is free of thumping or clicking noises that would otherwise distract. It's a solid presentation.


Fairly recent title + Criterion holding the rights to said title = a bunch of extras, and it lives up to the title here, porting over almost all of the supplements from the New Line Release and adding some more. A 1992 commentary track with Altman, Tolkin and cinematographer Jean Lepine is the first extra here and it's a fine one, as Tolkin recounts the inspiration of putting the novel together, and each recounts working with Altman. Altman shares more of the production detail, such as shot breakdown or intent in a scene, or character motivations. It's a worthy complement to the film. Next is an interview with Altman, also recorded in 1992 (21:00), where he discusses his approach to a scene and what his interests are. He talks about the film's opening eight-minute continuous shot, and how he worked with the myriad of guest stars. He speculates on what metaphors are in the film and how The Player helped get Short Cuts made, and his thoughts on whether this film served as a ‘comeback' for him at that time. It covers little of the ground in the commentary and is just as solid.

"Planned Improvisation" (45:53) include new interviews with Robbins, Tolkin, Lepine and production designer Stephen Altman (Robert's son) as they discuss more on the origins of the novel and script and how each came to it. Some original casting ideas were discussed (Chevy Chase as Griffin?!?!?!) and Stephen's approach to the production and wardrobe are touched on. The differences between the first draft and final cut are recounted, and some moments in the film such as the love scene between Scacchi and Robbins are discussed. Some fond memories are tossed around here. A press conference with Altman and the cast post-Cannes film festival screening is next (55:50) where more on how the cast came to the film is talked about, and past films/future considerations are made, and the general impressions of Hollywood are shared by most on the dais. Its inclusion is nice but there isn't a heckuva lot to take from it. "Robert Altman's Players" (15:47) is a documentary of the fund-raising scene in the film that was made at the time. It is mostly fly on the wall stuff with occasional interviews, but we get to see Altman work on set while the crew show off the autographs they got post-shoot. An interview with Robbins and a press member at the end is funny for its tilted awkwardness. "Map to the Stars" is a stills gallery of the cameos in the film, while six deleted scenes/outtakes (13:26) are forgettable, save for Scott Glenn demanding that his per diem be ready once he's done. Altman, Tolkin and Lepine provide their views on the opening shot (8:11), while two trailers (American and Japanese, 4:02) and five TV spots (1:53) complete the package.

Final Thoughts:

With an polished performance by its lead, The Player and the ample amounts of satire brought to bear by its director and writer prove to be a film that is just getting better with age. Technically, the disc is a stunner, as Criterion releases are accustomed to being, and the bonus material is stellar. If you have not seen this one yet by all means avail yourself to do so, and double-dip on the Blu-ray if you haven't (I mean, it's Criterion for Pete's Sake!), because a Criterion treatment of an Altman film is a pleasant requirement.

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