Sunday, September 10, 2006


The Return of The Player by Michael Tolkin

"Physics cracked the atom, biology cracked the genome and Hollywood cracked the story. ... The movies had their run and now the movies are over."
Griffin Mill in The Return of the Player

By Edward Copeland
Griffin Mill has returned, 18 years after first appearing in Michael Tolkin's novel The Player and 14 years after Robert Altman immortalized him in his great 1992 film The Player. Tolkin has written a sequel, The Return of The Player, looking at where Griffin stands today, more than a decade after he got away with killing a screenwriter he mistakenly thought had been threatening him.

I never read Tolkin's original novel but I love Altman's screen version (so it's impossible not to imagine Tim Robbins when you read the sequel, though it's easier not to imagine Greta Scacchi as his now-ex wife June, since she apparently wasn't the cool Icelandic beauty portrayed in the film).

As we pick up Griffin's story, he's now 52, still grinding out a living at a studio but becoming convinced that the world is a dying place. He's also down to his last dollars, thanks to his opulent lifestyle and alimony and child support for June and their two children plus his life with his miserable wife Lisa and their daughter.
Soon, Griffin hits upon a scheme to get into the good graces of a mysterious and rich power broker and starts taking steps to assure that it happens, including a Regina Giddens-type killing of someone who stands in his way.

What puzzles me most is that both his wives seem aware of what he did to the late screenwriter David Kahane in the original, but neither seems to care much including June, who was Kahane's girlfriend after all. Tolkin doesn't even go the trouble of making the case that they are too accustomed to a glitzy lifestyle to raise moral qualms about murder, all the more mystifying since Lisa wants out of her marriage.

Unfortunately, The Return of The Player, while a quick read, doesn't really offer much in the way of entertainment aside from the occasionally well-written passage such as when Griffin thinks to himself at a bar mitzvah:
You see actresses you love, movie stars, powerfully talented, panicked by the injustice of age lines, who go to the wrong plastic surgeon and destroy their careers more completely than death by making themselves look like female impersonators of whom they used to be, their lips puffed as though attacked by swarms of bees from an organic hive, eyelids stapled deep into the sockets, beach-ball bosoms and forehead frozen with Botox into an emotional unintelligibility useful for the championship of the World Series of Poker.

Beyond that, the novel's eventual punchline seemed obvious to me early on, despite the amusing surprise of the real-life person whom Griffin goes to to seek absolution.

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