At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Glengarry Glen Ross “92”

MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Drama/ Stars: Al Pacino, Jack Lemmon, Alec Baldwin, Alan Arkin, Ed Harris, Kevin Spacey, Jonathan Pryce, Bruce Altman, Jude Ciccolella/ Runtime: 100 minutes

God it must be tough for those of you out there in the world who have chosen to enter the career known as being a salesperson. Indeed the hours are erratic, your co-workers are also your fiercest competition thus making workplace friendships difficult and the atmosphere one driven by equal amounts competitiveness, hostility, and ego, your paycheck is quite often dependent on how much product you manage to unload onto a customer, and more often than not you will have that one customer who no matter how hard you try to get will always find a way to let you down thus sinking you back into the primordial ooze to find another way to get them or others like them to sign on that proverbial dotted line. Suffice it to say then that with such a hostile work environment out there in the world today how could anyone in the world of entertainment be it film or theater tell a story set in it that is both riveting, but downright electrifying? Well this is the part of the review where I say thank goodness for David Mamet then! Indeed, for those of you who don’t know, this is the noted playwright who has written several scripts of his plays for the land of movie magic to utilize, but who in 1992 saw one of his more highly regarded plays turned into a Hollywood film courtesy of a film helmer by the name of James Foley. Thankfully for him, the cast and crew, and for us too really, the film is an absolute triumph. Indeed make no mistake: Glengarry Glen Ross might not be the easiest film in the world to sit through, either because of the overwhelming language or just the overall story, but trust me when I say that together the talented people behind the camera and the absolutely phenomenal group of powerhouse acting talent the film managed to get in front of the camera manage to work together in beautiful synchronicity to give us a look at the world of business that is equal parts riveting, engaging, and yet sleazy, amoral, and degrading in all the best ways possible.

The plot is as follows: Set over about a 24 hour period of time, Glengarry Glen Ross presents us with a look at a group of, it should be noted right off the bat, unscrupulous real estate salesmen who are all, as our story begins, at different points in their careers and lives. Indeed amongst our cast of sleazy salesmen there is office hotshot Ricky Roma who is as arrogant as he is successful and who seemingly has no limits to just how far he is able to go or who he is willing to go after when it comes to making a sale, the proverbial “old lion” in the pack Sheldon “Shelly” Levene who, although a formidable salesman (by his own admission) in his time, has here lately entered a cooling period that try as he might he can’t seem to break out of thus raising serious doubts about his future with the company, the meek and still decent (probably due to being newer to the company than the others) George Aaronow who is starting to wonder if he’s in the right profession since he cannot seem to close a single customer, and office loudmouth Dave Moss who, despite being a decent salesman, is just as boisterous as Ricky on a good day, but even more arrogant yet here lately hasn’t been nearly as successful thus resulting in Dave beginning to raise his ire to the heavens about the land they’re selling, the way the bosses are doing things, and so on and so forth. Oh and there’s also the office manager, one John Williamson, who literally finds himself less running the office day to day and operates more like a beleaguered babysitter for some of the foulest mouthed overgrown toddlers on the planet. Yet although life is tough for about 95% of the people in this office, things are about to get even tougher. A fact that soon comes a’calling when the bosses send a tough as nails “motivator” in to shake the troops out of their stupor by unleashing on them not only a steady torrent of verbal abuse, but also by revealing a double-pronged spear of both the new sales leads which the majority will not get to work on until they get their numbers up, but also the revelation that if they are not one of the top 2 salesmen that month they will be shown the door. Suffice it to say our group of sleazy salesmen is desperate to make it to the top, but we soon see that perhaps there is one who is more desperate than the others; a fact that becomes apparent when a robbery occurs and the new leads, worth their weight in semi-cheap gold, suddenly and horrifically go missing…..

Now in his attempts to bring his own play from the stage to the silver screen, it should be noted that celebrated playwright, and film scribe, David Mamet, with the aid of film helmer James Foley, ingeniously makes the choice to head back to one of his oft utilized thematic concepts. A fact made evident by seeing that this film really does explore another wrinkle on the idea that somewhere out there the “con” is always being done to some poor helpless victim in one manner or another. Indeed as presented by Mamet in such works as House of Games, and 2001’s criminally underseen Gene Hackman starrer Heist, nothing is ever what it appears to be, the con game is always ongoing, and the drama in his narratives always stems from both the causes for engaging in the con and the fallout from doing so. Suffice it to say that this slice of cinematic pie is not an outlier to this. Indeed be it the slimy yet smoothly sneaky top guy in the office sweet talking a potential buyer into coughing up his check or a vet on the sales force who has been on a serious losing streak as of late showing up a potential client’s house at the most inappropriate time and then refusing to take the hint and get out, Mamet manages to rivetingly maintain that the con is an ongoing 24/7/365 endeavor. As such, we get a pitch black yet riveting analysis on the human condition especially where toxic yet copious amounts of masculinity, competition, and one-upmanship are concerned that is then showcased and presented to you dear reader with an extremely profane potency that is not only riveting and downright electrifying, but is the kind which will keep you hooked right up until the credits begin to roll.

Ultimately though, the thing that distinguishes a film like this is the cast that potentially could be involved. Happily, the cast that has been brought together for this particular film is no less than the best parts of legendary and iconic all rolled into one. Indeed, in the top-billed role, we get an electrifying turn from perennial screen icon Al Pacino as office hotshot Ricky Roma. Indeed the scene where we see Roma all but hypnotize the potential mark ehhh client into agreeing to buy from is truly mesmerizing. Indeed Roma really is the kind of person in sales that you never want to encounter because they are so hypnotic that you would find it very difficult to refuse them on what it is they are selling. Suffice it to say then that not only Pacino sells the role brilliantly, but he also closes it perfectly too. We also get Ed Harris who in the pivotal role of Dave Moss, is absolutely riveting. Indeed Harris does terrific work in bringing to life a character whose bitter cynicism seems to ooze from inside out and who has managed to completely negate the aspect of who he is which made him successful at what he does, and as a result would much rather engage in cynical and self-righteous self-pity than anything else. We also get a glimpse at the other end of this particular mindset courtesy of another employee named George, brilliantly portrayed played by Alan Arkin who is a man that, unlike Dave who did have potential at one time or another, has absolutely nothing to keep him grounded. As such he really is the odd man out on the sales force who really would be better off doing anything but this job. We also get powerful work from Alec Baldwin in what is, for all intents and purposes, an extended cameo. Yet in that 10 minutes of screen time, Baldwin manages to turn out a performance that feels very much like the salesman’s equivalent of a hellfire and brimstone pastor both in passion and delivery to the point that it really is some of his finest work and proof that he is a truly talented thespian when given the right material. Also doing wonderfully understated work in this is Kevin Spacey as office manager Williamson. Indeed he may seem like the definitions of both put-upon and verbally abused by the salesmen he works with, but there is a slimy and devious side to him as well and Spacey manages to show this very well especially in his final confrontation with one character that I shall not spoil here. Ultimately though the finest performance in this film however would come from screen icon Jack Lemmon as Shelley “The Machine” Levene. Indeed Lemmon manages to do truly magnificent work in bringing this character so immersed in internal anguish that it’s almost palpable. Indeed all you have to do is just simply look into his character’s eyes in order to fully comprehend the magnitude of his desperation to the point that Lemmon makes this guy both relatable and surprisingly realistic. Indeed Lemmon makes this character an individual someone you can empathize with even if you don’t fully have sympathy for him or his actions. It really truly is a terrific performance by an actor who gave us his fair share and then some of performances that were no less than iconic.

All in all it is safe to say that the individuals out there who find themselves having to depend on their wit and almost literally by the seat of their pants in order to even have a chance at eating lunch the next day let alone making their way in the world are more often than not highly susceptible to engaging in acts of pure desperation due to no less than insecurity that is native to their career and this is especially true for salespeople like the men in this film. Thus with such pressure an inherent plausibility then what pray tell would one do when times aren’t so good in order to keep from sinking under the waves of the storm? Indeed this truly is an intriguing question that I feel each and every one of us as consumers should be able to have some kind of answer for from the people we buy from before we even begin to ponder signing on that line and putting our finances in hock for a particular purchase. Thankfully playwright David Mamet, helmer James Foley, and a truly powerhouse cast are here to help you by presenting you with several possible answers, none of them positive in any sense of the word, but all of them realistic and actually kind of relatable to an extent. Indeed Glengarry Glen Ross truly is a relentless, visceral, brutally profane yet great film that also functions as an in-depth analysis of the possible motives of a group of unscrupulous men who are more than willing to do whatever it takes to divorce you from that wad of cash you have in the bank and who could care less that the land they’re selling is less Paradise and more an appalling junkyard. Suffice it to say then that if you have ever trusted a salesman a day in your life then I can honestly say after viewing this film you might start having some serious second thoughts. Just remember though: they’re not bad people (though an argument could be made for the men in this film to be Potty Mouth of the Year Contenders). They’ve just been taught to always be closing and even if it’s not with you they’ll just find someone to close on time and time again. On a scale of 1-5 I give Glengarry Glen Ross a solid 4 out of 5.