The Player: Criterion Collection (Blu-ray)

May 9, 2016 12 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton and Fusion3600

Plot: What’s it about?

“Traffic was a bitch.”

Griffin Mill (Tim Robbins) is a studio executive who has a successful past in the industry. While his past has been good, his present isn’t faring as well, and his job security isn’t what it used to be. Besides rubbing elbows with stars and directors, Mill usually listens to writers pitch their latest works, in hopes of turning their screenplay into a movie. Some of them get made, but most of them end up getting the old “don’t call us, we’ll call you” line. When Griffin rejects a script, he just never calls the people back, leaving them in wonderment as to the status of their screenplay. This tactic saves Griffin from a confrontation with the writer, but it also runs the risk of angering the writer, which is what happens in one case. Griffin has been receiving death threats, he believes the culprit is a writer whom he has scorned, and he even thinks he knows which one. When Griffin arrives at the writer’s home to discuss the issue, he finds only the writer’s wife, who informs Griffin that the man is at a local theater. He goes to the theater, meets the writer, and after a small scuffle, ends up drowning the man in a mudpuddle. It seems as though Griffin’s problems are solved, but now it looks as though he has killed the wrong writer, and trouble is building around Mill. First, he begins an affair with the deceased writer’s wife (Greta Scacchi), then he has a relentless detective (Whoopi Goldberg) on his trail all the time, and now the death threats have started up again. With his career, not to mention his personal life, falling to pieces around him, can Griffin escape this madness?

If you’re a movie buff, this is one flick you simply cannot miss. This movie offers a satiric glimpse at the madness behind magic of the movies, such as concept pitches and private lives of the executives. While this is mostly fictional in essence, I am sure shards of truth can be pulled from many of the scenes. The writing is outstanding, based on a novel by Michael Tolkin, who also wrote the screenplay. As Griffin’s life falls apart, it’s almost graceful how other workers can sense the blood in the water, and prepare to make moves after Griffin’s fall. This mean spirited edge is what makes this movie so damn good, as there is no sugar coating as to this world works. The phrase “movie magic” has no meaning here, the only magic to Griffin Mill is money and name dropping. Another reason this movie works so well is the plethora of cameos by celebrities and other industry types, which fleshes out the world inside the movie. It makes the events seem more realistic when random actors are just walking through scenes, like this is just another day. I have seen this movie several times, and it seems as though each time I view it, I see one or two new faces that I didn’t catch before. The layers of detail in the scenes is excellent, and really makes the replay value very high.

This movie was directed by one of the finest in the business, Mr. Robert Altman. Altman is a master behind the camera, and this movie is a perfect choice for him. With an ensemble cast like this movie has, Altman is the perfect choice, as he has turned out many excellent flicks with large casts. Nashville, Ready To Wear, and Short Cuts all spring right into my mind as outstanding Altman movies with an ensemble cast. Other wonderful Altman films include Kansas City, Popeye, M*A*S*H, and Streamers. While this movie sports a very large number of actors, there is a true lead, which is played by Tim Robbins. Robbins (The Hudsucker Proxy, Arlington Road) has one of the most varied resumes out there, and is able to bring almost any character across well. This role is no exception, Robbins is totally believable as Griffin, both during arrogant times and the desperate days. Other actors with major roles include Whoopi Goldberg (Eddie, Ghost), Greta Scacchi (Emma, The Red Violin), Fred Ward (Tremors, Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins), Peter Gallagher (The Man Who Knew Too Little, American Beauty), and Brion James (Tango & Cash, Cherry 2000). As I mentioned above, the movie is filled with smaller roles and cameos, so I will list only a few of these. Vincent D’Onofrio, Lyle Lovett, Gina Gershon, Sydney Pollack, Susan Sarandon, Rod Steiger, Jeff Daniels, and Patrick Swayze. Believe me, there are many, many more, but time and space don’t allow me to list them all.

Video: How’s it look?

This isn’t the first foray into Blu-ray territory for this modern classic. No, Warner (via New Line) released it a few years ago but it was a fairly lackluster effort. The picture was grainy and it lacked any supplements of note. Enter Criterion. As they’ve done with pretty much every title they’ve released, The Player was given a brand new 4K restoration and the results are immediately noticeable. The 1.85:1 AVC HD image looks sharp and sleek, and though a fine layer of grain does exist – it’s a throwback to the days of film. Colors seem bolder and brighter, the early 90’s look seems more “at home” if you will, than with the previous Blu-ray. Detail has been improved as well.  Admittedly, this still doesn’t hold a candle to newer films, but considering where this came from – this looks outstanding!

Audio: How’s it sound?

If you’re a fan of Robert Altman’s films, then his trademark overlapping dialogue is right at home here. Sometimes it’s a bit confusing, but it really is a lot more realistic than 99% of the other films out there. I mean really, how often do we wait for one another to finish each other’s sentences to speak? The only included track is a DTS HD Master Audio 2.0 track, but it gives very nice separation to the channels. Admittedly this isn’t the most dynamic soundtrack out there, but with what Criterion had to work with – it certainly fits the bill. Vocals are pure and rich, clean and crisp and with a cast of nearly five dozen – that’s pretty important. A fine effort.

Supplements: What are the extras?

The previous Warner/New Line Blu-ray did have its fair share of extras, but this version by Criterion is the one to get. Let us delve into the plethora of extra features included on this Blu-ray.

  • Audio Commentary – If you have a copy of this movie on LaserDisc, then you’ll immediately recognize this commentary by Robert Altman, Michael Tolkin and Jean Lepine. It was recorded for that edition back in 1992 and with Altman no longer with us, will serve as a reminder to his brilliance. This is a pretty technical track with lots of influence about the way the movie was shot, its themes and influences as well as the supporting ensemble cast. It’s a great listen and well worth it.
  • Trailers and TV Spots – The U.S. trailer is included as is the Japanese trailer and a few TV spots.
  • Opening Shot with Commentary – The seven and a half minute opening shot (all in one take) is presented with two commentaries: Robert Altman and the second by Michael Tolkin and Jean Lepine.
  • Deleted Scenes/Outtakes – Five total.
      Arrival at Dick Mellen’s Party

      Columbia Bar & Grill

      Jeff Daniels Swings a Club

      Patrick Swayze Spars with Stuckel

      Al Capone’s Hideout

      Outtakes: The Lonely Room

  • Map to the Stars – Essentially as the title suggests – it’s an interactive map with the ensemble cast that appears in the film.
  • Robert Altman’s Players – This was some video footage at a fund-raising event that was held on July 20, 1991. And now it’s a feature on a Blu-ray. Gotta love Hollywood.
  • Cannes Press Conference – This is footage from the Cannes Film Festival in 1992.  Director Robert Altman, Tim Robins as well as a few other cast and crew members fielded some questions.
  • Robert Altman – Borrowing once again from the Criterion LaserDisc is this feature, which was made for Criterion in 1992. Altman discusses many of the aspects of the film, the casting of such a large group of actors and some of the points of influence he used for the movie.
  • Planned Improvisation – New to this Blu- Ray, this features screenwriter Michael Tolkin and Tim Robbins along with Altman’s son, Stephen who give some insight on the film. Robbins is still as chatty as ever, but it’s nice to see a new feature added to this disc.
  • Leaflet – Sam Wasson’s essay “The Screenplayer” appears on this illustrated booklet.

The Bottom Line

Sharp and cynical, it seems that making fun of Hollywood by those that are immersed in it will never go out of style. From Sunset Boulevard to All About Eve to this modern masterpiece – this is Altman at his best (and that’s saying something). Criterion has once again produced a high quality Blu-ray with an amazing picture restoration along with a plethora of supplements. For the movie-lover in you this one goes without saying that it should be added to your collection.

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