Glengarry Glen Ross
20 years ago I saw a film that would be now considered the epitome of what we like to call Furious Cinema. That was Director James Foley’s big screen adaptation of the 1984 Pulitzer Prize/Tony award winning play written by David Mamet, Glengarry Glen Ross.
What I’ve always loved most about this movie is the fact it’s all about the dialogue i.e. cadence and use of language between the characters. Since it was based on a stage play, that made it a perfect showcase for the cast to really zone in on their craft as it’s made up of a lot of one on one and confrontational moments. Of course there is a difference between performing on a stage live and working in front of a camera, although with the seasoned actors chosen you got the best of the best of both stage and screen.
At a small real estate firm, Premiere Properties, we are introduced to a group of salesmen, all of whom are veterans of the game of wheeling and dealing. There’s Ricky Roma (Al Pacino), Shelley “The Machine” Levene (Jack Lemmon), Dave Moss (Ed Harris) and George Aaronow (Alan Arkin). They are overseen by office manager John Williamson (Kevin Spacey) a smarmy rookie who hands out the leads (potential clients) to them. All the guys really have to go on is their selling skills. Some clearly have a real knack for it like Roma, while others like Moss seem to constantly be down on their luck and bickering about it.
With motivation at an all time low, the companies main office Mitch and Murray sends some emergency help in the form of a successful sharpshooter/motivational speaker named Blake (Alec Baldwin). When he arrives bellowing a mad as hell bomb of insults on the poor saps it’s simply one of the greatest scenes in the movie. Blake rants and raves like a furious drill seargent to try to get the hoofers back into action, but some, like Moss are resentful and spit back remarks. Blake instantly tells Moss to go fuck himself and puts him down about 12 feet underground. Blake may talk loud and is about as hateful as one could be, yet he has one item on him that could turn all these shmucks’ lives around: the cherished Glengarry leads. The keys that would give them the chance to find some prime land investors. He proceeds to taunt them with the pink cards and lets them know if they don’t close on the crappy leads they’ve already got, they wont see the cream of the crop (which are tied up in a present-like bundle). After Blake leaves, the men are desperate to close some deals and start trying to come up with the easiest ways to do it. This includes everything from bribing Williamson to plans of robbing the office.
As Moss and George humorously comiserate about their jobs and feel bad for themselves, Roma finds one chance to get back on top of things by schmoozing a middle aged, friendly guy named James Lingk (Jonathan Pryce). It’s here we get to see Roma’s laser guided salesmanship skills at work. This guy is so good he could talk a woman in white gloves into buying a ketchup popsicle. After forming a fast friendship with Lingk over drinks while discussing life and how people don’t take enough chances, he drops a real estate offer on him and gets him to sign over a check in no time.
Meanwhile, Shelley goes straight to Williamson to try to talk him into going in with him on a deal. If he hands over some of the Glengarry leads, in return Williamson will get a cut of whatever he makes from the sales. Being a man with conviction and using this as a chance to get back at Shelley for his past insults and disrespect, Williamson relents and leaves Shelley on his own to get back into the flow.
When Roma and the others return to the office the next day they discover it’s been burglarized. Outraged over the stolen Glengarry leads and how they’re now being grilled by Williamson and some detectives, the place turns into a mad as hell battle of the salesmen and a game of “whos the rat” something similar to what occurs in Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs.
The acting is simply exquisite in this film. Jack Lemmon’s Shelley is a man who has lost his way but gets by daily talking about sales conquests of the past and how great he used to be. Ed Harris’ Moss is a bundle of pent up bitterness but a guy that, if he could gain a more positive attitude might do well. Alan Arkin’s George seems the most easy going of the group, someone who goes along with the crowd, and tries not to make waves. While Spacey’s Williamson comes across rather snotty, not quite competent in his position and takes quite a lot of abuse. Although as we learn, he’s really just trying to do the best he can with what he’s got around him.
Glengarry Glen Ross has some of the most electric, realistic, hilarious and completely harsh dialogue I’ve ever heard. This led to it being referred to as “Death of A Fuckin’ Salesman” and rightfully so. If you love films that have incredible writing and top of the line actors, you need to see this classic!
– The title of the film comes from the names of two of the real estate developments being peddled by the salesmen characters (Glengarry Highlands and Glen Ross Farms)