Robert Altman's 1992 film The Player represents another outstanding achievement in a directorial career that has had many richly deserved accolades over the course of more than a half-century's work. The film follows Tim Robbins' Griffon Mill, a Hollywood movie executive who finds himself the object of a despondent screenwriter's obsession and is an example of satiric, dark comedy at its best.
Based on the novel by Michael Tolkin (who also wrote the screenplay), The Player manages to both beautifully mock Hollywood and yet – with eyes wide open – play into many of the tropes it mocks. Is the movie coming down pro-Hollywood? Is it coming down anti-Hollywood? The truth may actually be that it is simply out to spin an excellent yarn and willing to use any means at its disposal to do so.
It is clear from the famed opening tracking shot of the film, a shot which lasts over seven and a half minutes, the film is going to be satirizing Hollywood and typical Hollywood conventions. Not only does the opening track shot treat us to an introduction of many of the major players in the film, but it discusses famous film tracking shots (perhaps most notably Orson Welles' Touch of Evil) that by its very nature it is mocking/paying homage to.
The plot of the film revolves around Mill who has been receiving death threats via postcards for several months from an unknown, unnamed writer who had a meeting with Mill and whom Mill never called back. At least, that's the story that the postcard writer allows Mill to work out, whether or not it's true is something the viewer will have to see for themselves. At the same time that Mill is trying to uncover his stalker, he is also fighting for his career at the studio as his boss, Joel Levison (Brion James), is bringing in another executive, Larry Levy (Peter Gallagher), in an attempt to force Mill out.