Saturday 15 June 2019

Movie Review: Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)

An adaptation of the David Mamet play, Glengarry Glen Ross examines the psyche of frenzied men in an ultra competitive business environment.

In New York, a group of salesmen work at a realty office, using unscrupulous tactics to peddle properties in Florida and Arizona to investors. Williamson (Kevin Spacey) is the office manager and hands out precious leads about potential buyers to the agents.

Roma (Al Pacino) has recently been achieving the best sales figures, and is now wearing down his latest client Lingk (Jonathan Pryce). In contrast the elderly Shelley (Jack Lemmon) is on a long losing streak and getting increasingly desperate, with family health issues adding to his stress. Moss (Ed Harris) is ambitious but unhappy at work, while George (Alan Arkin) feels he is losing his edge.

Blake (Alec Baldwin) arrives from head office and berates the salesmen for their recent poor performance, announcing that most of them will be fired if they don't immediately close more deals.  With Williamson safeguarding a deck of treasured new leads at the office, the men have just a few hours to prove themselves. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and an office break-in adds a new layer of tension to the already strained dynamics between the men.

Featuring a superlative all-male cast and a Mamet script, Glengarry Glen Ross (the title refers to two developments being peddled by the agents) is a profanity-filled high-energy talkfest. The film takes place over just a couple of days, but captures the trauma of alpha males growling at each other to gain every advantage and survive until the next batch of leads are distributed.

All the men are experts at deceit and underhanded sales tactics, and effortlessly flip between smooth talk, pleading and ultra aggressive put-downs depending on the immediate objective. And they are all also pathetic, Glengarry Glen Ross a study of manhood lost to the pursuit of shady profit by victimizing others.

Most of the film takes place at the office and the Chinese restaurant across the street. The theatrical origins are obvious, and some of the overclocked gestures translate poorly to the screen. But director James Foley keeps his focus on the talent-rich cast, often in close-up, and with most of the conversations walking on the edge of hostility, the film rides out the rough patches with ease.

Alec Baldwin's one scene performance as the slick downtown executive berating the sales agents for poor performance and goading them by comparing his success to their pathetic lives has entered into cinematic legend. Mamet added this scene to help extend the short play into feature film length, and while Baldwin's insults are never less than over the top, his unconstrained contempt perfectly sets the stage for the mood of desperation.

In a world where integrity and basic ethics are notably absent, Jack Lemmon shines as yesterday's man, surrendering Shelley to wounded melancholia living on past glories as he frantically seeks to catch a break by any foul means, unaware the sun has set on his career and sales tactics.

Glengarry Glen Ross is where life's dreams of success go to die, submerged in fast talking, subterfuge and self-imposed delusions.

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