Half the fun of The Player is watching director Robert Altman and screenwriter Michael Tolkin repeatedly and enthusiastically bite the hands that feed them -- or, in Altman's case, stopped feeding him: it was his first film for an American studio in seven years, marking his commercial and critical comeback after some interesting but inconsistent pictures following the box-office disappointment of Popeye (1980). The Player can be read as an indictment of the amorality of all American business in the 1980s and 1990s, but it's Hollywood that takes it on the chin, and the parade of movie notables in cameo roles suggests that plenty of people in town were sympathetic to the message. Like most of Altman's films, The Player features a superb cast that brings out the best in each other, notably a memorably slimy Tim Robbins , Greta Scacchi at her mysterious and seductive best, Vincent D'Onofrio as the suitably angry writer, and Richard E. Grant in a scene-stealing turn as a man who won't let his integrity get in the way of a deal. Also like Altman's best work, The Player twists and turns along the way, providing yet perverting all the elements of a successful Hollywood movie: violence, but against the wrong people; comedy, but mean-spirited and at the expense of the leads; major stars, but mostly for about a minute at a stretch; and a "happy" ending, which benefits a morally contemptible man who ought to be in jail. That The Player was a commercial success made the film's attack on the movie industry all the more ironic, but you get the impression that Altman must have seen the humor in that.
by Mark Deming review