Monday, May 8, 2017

Glengarry Glen Ross

1992's GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS is not a great movie per se, but showcases a gallery of knockout performances that, while it plays out in all its obscene glory, sure seems that way.  It's easy to get lost in the ferocious performances of Jack Lemmon, Al Pacino, Kevin Spacey, Ed Harris, Alan Arkin, and in one amusing, classic scene, Alec Baldwin.  For this project, it's all about the acting and the writing.  David Mamet adapted his own play, and has again written dialogue that sounds like music.  It's a joy to listen to.  Someone even coined the term "Mametspeak" to describe the rhythmic torrents that when flying out of the right actors' mouth are as sublime as anything written in its era.

But as a film, GLENGARRY is competent but unremarkable.  James Foley directs minimally, aside from a few stylish touches (rain, colored neon, unusual camera angles) here and there.  This is also not merely a filmed play; several scenes do take place outside the office.    I suppose any director would've been wise to stand back and let the cast go, offering guidance only when requested.  I picture Lemmon maybe having a frustrated moment or two, closing his eyes and asking Foley for a line or a motivation.  It's hard to quantify what makes a film great inherently when you've analyzed all the usual things: editing, cinematography, composition.  I found myself wondering what the movie would've been like if Scorsese had directed - quick edits and zooms, well chosen music. Or Mike Nichols - similar use of lighting, some close-ups? Another "actor's director" approach? Maybe something like Hal Ashby used to do?

No matter.  The cast put this trenchant examination of the American Dream (dubbed by the actors as "Death of a Fuckin' Salesman") over so effectively you're just exhausted and stunned by the time the ending comes.  And I really like how Foley ends this movie, somewhat abruptly as one of the hapless real estate agents once again picks up the phone, trying to convince someone to buy land.  Then we cut to that near constantly present elevated train roaring past the office.  Life goes on.  No matter what harrowing shit goes down in the boiler room, be it robberies, interrogations, or hurt feelings, there will always be a monthly quota to meet.

At the opening of the film, a company guy named Blake (Baldwin) arrives to verbally abuse/motivate the  sales guys, offering a Cadillac for the top seller.  The other options are a set of steak knives or walking papers.  Blake's speech has become legend, constantly quoted.  "A. B. C.  Always. Be. Closing."  His audience isn't motivated, they're defeated and pissed.  Such condescension.  Who does this guy think he is?  They're out there busting hump, given dead end leads by their weasly office manager Williamson (Spacey), trying to make a living.  Moss (Harris) takes it especially hard, in many subsequent scenes describing how Medieval it's all become, this method of intimidation, this corporate bullshit.  George Aaronow (Arkin) can do little but agree with him.  Shelley Levine (Lemmon) is the saddest of all, a former hotshot who finds that his smooth patter doesn't cut it anymore.  His desperation fueled by having a sick wife.

Richard Roma (Pacino) is the #1 slickster du jour, seen in the early moments of GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS in a Chinese restaurant convincing an easily convincible man (Jonathan Pryce) to drop several grand.  Roma's pitch will be familiar to anyone who's had the misfortune of sitting down with one of these vipers.  Guys like him are America's "winners", the ones who flash the expensive accoutrements. But even Ricky will have to back pedal, employ crafty dishonesty to try to save a sale.  A scene with Pacino, Pryce, and Lemmon late in the film is probably as real as it gets when it comes to sales hucksterism.  Mamet really nails it.

The insight the writer has into the desperate middle-ager trying to not just get his slice of the pie, but just eke out a living, extends also to some of their clients.  Blake yells in his tirade that if a guy is on the lot, he wants to buy.  But we also learn some customers don't intend to buy anything, they're just lonely and want someone to chat with.
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