The DefinitiveS
An ongoing series of in-depth essays and appreciations on the very best of cinema

The Player opens with a crane shot that lasts over seven minutes, all filmed as one long take, much of it improvised, during which each moment sets up the film’s many plotlines and characters. The shot follows producers, screenwriters, actors, and executives on a studio lot. They discuss production snafus, potential projects, and even a death threat. The scene perfectly illustrates how the whole of Robert Altman's film shifts from Hollywood satire to film noir, from comic farce to an almost dystopian portrait of tinsel town. In his masterful 1992 release, Altman investigates another curious subculture—just as he did in M*A*S*H (1970) and Nashville (1975)—by depicting Hollywood in the late 1980s and early 1990s: a place of excess, endless pitch sessions, power breakfasts, business lunches, ambitious execs, secluded spas, and vacuous celebrities, many of whom make cameo appearances as themselves. It’s also a story of murder and manipulation, and often a hilarious one. Altman once called it, “A very, very soft indictment of Hollywood.” However, even the most blackly comic murder has implications that could hardly be described as soft. What he meant was simple: Hollywood was much worse than he was representing in his film. After all, there was only one thing in Hollywood that could be considered worse than murder: releasing a flop. Through Altman’s incomparable perspective, The Player would become the ultimate post-modern insider’s film, whose deconstructive approach dishes on Hollywood culture in all its insidious glory.

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