The Player by Michael Tolkin (1988)
The Player directed by Robert Altman (1992)
This is the first episode of “Subscriber September”! All of the book vs movie episodes I am posting this month were all requested by subscribers in a community post I made in July. This one was submitted by DesirelessnessJF, whose name is Johnny. So I would definitely like to hear from Johnny in the comments and see what you think of my coverage, and what your thoughts are on this book and movie!
This was a fun one since it is about the movie industry and the whole producer’s vs writer’s kind of thing. It was also very timely since as of recording this, the writers and actors strike is still going on.
Michael Tolkin works in Hollywood as a writer so he has an inside perspective on what it is like and the book is very jaded when it comes to Hollywood producers. It was very entertaining, funny, and at times very surprising. I would definitely recommend it to readers that also enjoy movies, as well as to anyone who is trying to make it as a writer.
The screenplay was also written by Tolkin and overall, it is very similar to the book. Tim Robbins is in the lead role, this being before Shawshank and his later Oscar win in Mystic River. He gives an incredible performance and he is definitely a huge highlight here. The movie also has so many actors making cameo’s as themselves and a lot of them are pretty funny.
This movie received a lot of praise and Oscar nominations, despite it giving a very bitter, negative take on the Hollywood industry. Altman even said to Tim Robbins, I think we were too nice to Hollywood in the film. It shouldn’t be this successful.”
This movie has a lot of 4-5 star reviews on Letterboxd, but I ended up giving it a 3.5. I liked it a lot, but it wasn’t a movie that always had my full attention. Having said that, I could see upping the rating after I have given it a second watch.
There is also an event that happens in the book that shocked me, but with the movie I knew it was coming so maybe there is something to going into the movie not knowing what will happen and how it will end.
From here on out I will be getting into the details of the plot, which means we will be getting into spoilers!
We begin by seeing that out main character, Hollywood producer Griffin, has been receiving threatening postcards from a writer that he had said he would get back to, but never did. Of course, Griffin says he will get back to every writer he meets with just as an easy way to be rid of them. But this writer thought he really would get back to him and is now upset and taking it personal. We also see that Griffin’s job is at stake because there is a new guy that has been hired and it seems he will be taking the promotion Griffin had wanted. In the movie, we don’t see which studio Griffin works for (maybe it is a made up one), but we see that their slogan is, “Movies-now more than ever” which I got a kick out of.
In the movie Griffin is dating a woman who works at the studio named Bonnie whereas in the book he and Bonnie did not work together and hadn’t even seen each other lately so the relationship is fizzling out on both ends.
In the book and movie, Griffin goes through his calendar and kind of randomly picks the name of a writer he has spoken with semi-recently but didn’t follow through with-David Kahan. In the book, he doesn’t think this is the actual writer that is sending postcards (though he does think how lucky it would be if he happened to pick the right person) but rather he hopes that in some karma kind of way, him reaching out to Kahane, will get the universe to stop the other writer from sending the postcard threats. In the movie it seems like he thinks Kahane really is the postcard writer.
He calls up Kahane’s number and a woman answers. In the movie Griffin is standing outside the home and is watching the woman and he talks on the phone with her whereas in the book he was at his office or house when he called. He asks about Kahane and she tells him he went to the movies and through their conversation he learns that Kahane and this woman, June, were together but their relationship is kind of on the rocks right now.
Griffin then goes to the theater Kahane is at and catches the endo f the movie and afterwards talks with Kahane. They go to a bar, and in the movie Kahane is very hostile towards Griffin. In the movie he was cold towards him, but not like almost aggressively so. In both, Kahane leave the bar first, and in the movie, Griffin walks past Kahane and Kahane starts harassing him again. They both are at Kahane’s car and Kahane pushes Griffin over this small ledge and from there Griffin ends up killing Kahane.
Whereas in the book, Griffin sees Kahane at his car and walks over to him. They are talking in a normal way, when Griffin squats down and lets the air out of Kahane’s tire, and from there grabs him and ends up killing him. This was pretty shocking and seemed to happen out of nowhere in the book!
When the body is found, eventually people talk about how Griffin is the last person to have seen him alive and he is brought in for questioning. He finds out when the funeral is, and decides to go and there in the book, he sees June for the first time. In the movie he goes to the funeral as well, but he had always known what June looked like, but she hadn’t met him before.
He talks with June a bit more and asks her to a big Hollywood event that is happening. In the book, he asks Bonnie, but she can’t make it. Whereas in the movie, he suggests Bonnie go out of town for work and this causes her to be out of town and not there for the event.
He and June go out a couple times and he asks her to go to Mexico with him. In the book, they really do go to Mexico, whereas in the movie he backs out due to seeing cops at the airport and suggests they go to Palm Springs or somewhere like that instead.
While there they both say, “I love you” and for the most part it is an enjoyable trip for them both.
The whole time, in the book, Griffin is waiting for them to be arrested and is thinking how this will be his last trip and maybe the last woman he will be with and imagines how he will think back on this vacation, and talk to others about, when he is on the inside. Since I knew Robbins plays Griffin in the movie, I couldn’t help but think of Shawshank Redemption at this point. He never is arrested though, but when he gets to the US he is asked to come to the station to stand in a line up.
While in Mexico there was always a Mexican cop nearby and when they are leaving, he thinks how he will miss seeing him around and wishes he had said bye to him lol.
In the movie, two writers pitch a story titled Habeas Corpus to him and has them tell it to the guy who will be in charge soon. He thinks the story is a dud and is trying to set this new guy up with it to sabotage him. It seems like this works to some extent, because by the end of the movie, Griffin now has the higher job.
In the book, Griffin gets a job at a different studio and in the end, he is now working somewhere else.
The movie Habeas Corpus was pretty funny though because the writer doesn’t want any big actor names to be in it, and he also doesn’t want a happy ending. Of course, when we see the final product, it stars Bruce Willis and Julia Roberts in hilarious cameos and has a happy ending. When Bonnie gets upset and asks the writer how come he agreed to make these terrible changes, the writer basically says his original idea wouldn’t have made any money and he wants to get rich.
After this, Bonnie is fired and when she goes to talk to Griffin about it he refuses to talk to her and drives home to see June who is now pregnant.
In the book, the stuff with Bonnie didn’t happen, but he is with June in the end.
The postcard writer
As far as what happens with the guy who has been sending postcards, it is very different in book and movie. In the book, after Kahane’s death he is still getting the threats. However, at the end he gets a letter from the writer where the writer shares how one day a writer friend of his was telling a story about being at a producers house and Arnold Schwarzenegger being there. In the letter he writes, “I found myself trying to tear everyone down as the story was being told, trying to make them less. For example: When my friend described the house, I said, “Oh, it’s his father’s house,” and my friend said, “No, it’s his.” “His father bought it for him,” I said, and my friend said, “Yeah, so what?” And that really stopped me. “Yeah, so what?” The producer was enjoying his life, he was having fun, he wasn’t confused, he didn’t hate himself. And I thought, Why am I torturing this executive? This is the sickest thing I’ve ever heard of. Why am I jealous of a rich kid whose father bought him a three-million-dollar playpen? My father’s helped me out, and that’s an advantage over someone who’s had to make every dime himself. So I didn’t get a movie made. So what?”
He tells Griffin that he has left Hollywood and will no longer bother Griffin.
Whereas in the movie, he calls up the studio and pitches an idea that mirrors what happened with him and Griffin and basically blackmails him into making his movie and in return the writer won’t tell about Griffin killing Kahane.
In the book, there is a scene when the writer and Griffin have a car chase/shoot out kind of thing happen. Then, when the writer writes Griffin in the end, he sends him money to pay for the windshield that he broke in that incident.
In the movie, there is no car chase thing, but instead a scene when the writer puts a rattlesnake in Griffin’s car.
In the book and movie there is a guy with the last name Levison and another with the last name Levy. One is in the high up position and the other is the new guy who it seems like is going to get the job Griffin wants. In the movie their names are pronounced differently, plus you have the two actors and so it wasn’t confusing. However, when reading the book, having two collogues with such similar names made it confusing! For the first little bit I even thought for a second that Levy was a nickname for Levison!
Book vs Movie
I liked this book a lot, but when it comes to book vs movie, I have to say the movie wins. It stays pretty close to the book plot, we have great performances, and all fo the celebrity cameos were a lot of fun. And the storyline with Habeas Corpus was also funnier in the movie. In the book we hear some other pitches that different writers have, and sometimes it felt like that kind of went on a bit too long. Like one about a cowboy that goes to cowboy heaven but then comes to earth to see a boy who loves cowboys. Maybe there was more symbolism with the stories that were pitched, but I just didn’t get why we were being told the whole plot to these other scripts that didn’t even matter with the plot.
There is a book sequel to this call The Return of the Player which would be interesting to read! If I do read it sometime, I will have to make a follow up video reviewing it!