When moving something from the stage it can be risky. The stage gives a more focused view with small sets that can bring the intimacy to the piece that makes it successful, when moving it to the screen, the idea of the intimacy can get lost and the sets can become massive. The 1992 film of Glengarry Glen Ross kept its smaller sets with the small telephone boxes these salesmen use to simulate their jet-setting ways.
David Mamet’s dialogue is plain, direct and simple but uttered quickly and repetitively that it’s a delight to hear such free-flowing words. Films have become accustomed to using dialogue to only hint towards the story or push it further along. Where we’re told about why this person is the biggest bastard around and all of his indiscretions to sum him up in a montage. This dialogue here is to get an insight into the characters, into their habits, into their emotions, their deviations, into them.
The salesmen are instructed of their usual sales competition from an outsider: the frightening Blake (Alec Baldwin) who tells them to fuck or walk. The prizes are a Cadillac El Dorado for first, a set of steak knives for second, finally, the person who finishes third gets fired. This is a look into the cogs that make the real estate agents sell, sell, sell! Sell real estate that no one wants, no matter of how successful and rich they try to sound over the phone, there’s nothing to sell. Their desperation reeks through as soon as the phones are back down. You see their faces drop when the people see through the charade, the dribble they spit in the faces of potential victims gets spat back, acidic too.
Not much happens in a narrative sense but a lot happens. Characters of the story are driven along by their motivation to sell lest they lose a poor paying job that’s the only thing they can sort of do. Let’s look at the characters. Shelley Levene (Jack Lemmon) was the best salesman of the company, coming month after month at the top of the sales board and being the best man for the job. How times change for The Machine Levene because now he has no sales, none at all, even being denied coffee by Blake (“Coffee’s for closers!”) and it’s all starting to pile up to collapse on him. His wife is in the hospital, he can’t make sales, he can’t keep on top of the bills and it’s only getting worse. He even pleads for new leads to make sales to afford a few of his bills. He even futilely offers all of the money in his wallet – a mere $30 – to his boss, John Williamson (Kevin Spacey), for new leads. It’s sad watching him snap from personality to personality, from begging to playing up his own importance like a powerful man he isn’t, that snaps him back to his desperation. It’s an outstanding performance, the best of the film, but they’re all of a high standard.
Ed Harris’s Dave Moss is a manipulator who goes on about winning the Cadillac but we all know that it’s not him coming up trumps: it’s Ricky Roma (Al Pacino) at the top of the game. The others are jealous of Ricky Roma and that’s how Ed Harris manipulates his co-workers Shelley and George Aaronow (Alan Arkin) into the plan to mess up their employers who have mistreated them after their talking down. The scenes that happen, like beautiful song duets, riffing between partners, are outstanding. This is writing at its best while the two flit between each other. Lemmon and Spacey’s from the office to the car. Dave and George’s criminal plan about going in but sacrificing the lamb for less money. Lemmon and the sale to a customer that doesn’t want anything. Ricky Roma and James Lingk’s (Jonathan Pryce) sales scenes throughout the film. These duets are written melodically with the words flowing lyrically between characters to set up moments. Writing needs a return like this.
The acting makes these lines come alive. These are lines that these actors take with both hands to spit with such ferocity and believability that these are career best performances from every member. Performances that are hard to top. Jack Lemmon? Perfect. Kevin Spacey? Outsanding. Al Pacino? Superb. Alan Arkin? Fantastic. Ed Harris? Sensational. Alec Baldwin? The best of his career and it’s only ONE scene. Together it’s a symphony of excellence that engages you into these lives of normal salesmen with not much really happening but it doesn’t need to, they’re interesting enough.
The steely lighting accompanies the smooth steely jazz track which overplays this piece. Head of the direction duties, James Foley, strings it together well, making it harmonise like the musical piece it has succeeded to be. The shots that accompany it like when the camera agonisingly slowly zooms out on a conversation between Lemmon and Pacino hinting towards the relief of pressure. The close ups bring a claustrophobic, pressured feeling added to the characters that add weight to the drama. This is an adaptation that cannot be missed as it pulls you into its tragic, desperate world that clutch at anything possible in their impoverished world. Immoral men will do immoral things for money, far too greedy of a world. A foul-mouthed view that grips to the realism of the dragon’s den they’ve tried to create in a tiny, underwhelming office. And now that it’s on Blu-ray, there’s even more rain!
Extras: The extras are pretty decent. There’s one labelled “Always Be Closing” which explores the facts and fictions of Glengarry Glen Ross. There’s a funny little clip in “Kevin Spacey: Inside Actor’s Studio” which is him re-riffing with a student the argument between him and Arkin. As well as an interview with the cinematographer and commentaries by Alec Baldwin of Blake and Alan Arkin on George Aaronow. The original theatrical trailer is there, a dedication to Jack Lemmon and the Charlie Rose Show.