The Player (1992)

Robert Altman’s casually vicious satire of the Hollywood film industry has perhaps lost some of its acidity over the decades, as audiences have found out more and more about the industry’s truly breathtaking depravity behind the curtains, but it’s still one of the best comedy/dramas of the ’90s. As with many of Altman’s work, the cast is almost ludicrously star-studded: In just about every scene, the screen is filled with blink-or-you’ll-miss-them cameos by A-listers a-plenty while the supporting cast is rounded out with terrific character actors who know exactly how to deliver Altman’s trademark conversational dialogue without anybody mugging for attention. It gives the overall movie a you-are-there, fly-on-the-wall vibe to the shady proceedings, while the plot and character dynamics demonstrate the interpersonal pettiness and grievances that clog up the movie-making process from beginning to end: Moviemaking is shown here as an arduous, meritless and artless process that’s mostly defined by how childish everyone behaves, in complete juxtaposition with the unearned arrogance they exhume. By the time the movie sends up the mainstream Hollywood “formula” for box-office success in the most satisfying way possible in its final shots, you’re ready to start watching the movie again to experience it as it’s ultimately intended, which is an indictment of unchecked privilege. Among the terrific performances, my personal favorite is Whoopi Goldberg as a Beverly Hills detective who masterfully manipulates leading man Tim Robbins in a funny and unexpectedly intense interrogation scene – she’s in complete control of the scene’s tone, and she walks away with the movie in the process.

Rating: ★★★★★ (out of 5)

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