The Film (4/5)
It has become almost cliché for directors to make films that either satirize filmmaking as a process (Fellini's 8 1/2) or Hollywood itself (Wilder's Sunset Boulevard). Even filmmakers outside of the Hollywood mainstream have jumped on board the trend (Cronenberg's recent Map to the Stars). In 1992 Robert Altman having spent the prior decade in a career lull came back in a strong way with his take on the Hollywood industry satire with his The Player.
The Player stars Tim Robbins (The Shawshank Redemption) as Griffin Mill, a successful up and coming studio executive that knows how to spot bourgeoning talent. He also has angered quite a few people during his days, and has begun to receive angry postcards from a writer whom he has previously ignored after one of their meetings. The postcards are acerbic and some downright nasty, and they are beginning to get to him. So he begins to investigate his calendar to figure out who the sender might be. He settles on a writer who he rejected months before, and begins to stalk him. As it turns out the writer is quite angry at Mills, but whether or not he's the postcard sender is to be determined. Unfortunately, Mills temper gets the best of him, and he ends up killing the man and doing his best to cover his tracks. Now Mill's spends his days trying to make up to the writer's widow (while falling for her), and getting away with the murder.
The Player opens with a glorious tracking shot that is up there with Welles' Touch of Evil as for opening tracking shots in cinema. The film as it opens plays like it's going for a more comedic approach to Hollywood satire with opening dialogue dealing with Japanese executives being handled in an overly cliché manner, and discussions about the making of a "The Graduate II". The film then brings in the postcard element, and then the murder, and Altman begins to trickle in elements of film noir and the film begins to cast a darker tone over it's glossy Hollywood image, and creates something that balances suspense and satire quite effectively.
The film isn't the ensemble piece that Altman is known for in the traditional sense. It has a handful of main characters throughout, all performed extremely well by the main cast. The film's ensemble element if one really looks for it is in the nearly 100 cameos by Hollywood actors and directors that populate the film that chime in here and there with just a line or two or just happen to wander across the screen to help the film realize it's setting. The dialogue is sharp and witty when it needs to be and helps to drive the plot in other places, and visuals are absolutely tremendous, as should be expected by Altman.
The Player comes to Blu-ray via Criterion in a spectacular 1:85:1 1080p AVC encoded transfer. The prior Blu-ray had issues with black crush amongst other things that are eliminated here. Colors are stable, natural, and well reproduced, blacks and inky and deep, and there is natural, but unobtrusive grain structure present.
The audio is presented with a DTS-HD 2.0 track in English. The track represents the dialogue and score quite well with no issues present on the track that I could notice on my listen.
Criterion have put together an extensive extras package for their Blu-ray release of the player including a full length commentary track with DP Jean Lepine. 2 opening shot commentaries one with Altman with other with Michael Tolkin and Lepine. We get deleted scenes, documentaries, interviews, Q and A's trailers, liner notes, and more.
The Player is one of Robert Altman's best film, and is finally well restored on Blu-ray. It looks and sounds truly wonderful, and comes loaded with extras. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.