Glengarry Glen Ross

Glengarry Glen Ross is a true classic,
which affected the way films are made

The are certain films that represent a moment in time when the best possible cast and crew, come together to make movie magic. Such a film is without any doubt Glengarry Glen Ross. It is a true classic, which affected the way films are made.

Four men who make a living selling real estate are presented with an ultimatum, close deals or you’re fired. Always Be Closing is more than slogan, it becomes a mantra of survival. Levene (Jack Lemmon) is the oldest of the group. His preferred sales pitch is how he is always just passing through town and needs to meet with the potential customer immediately. Moss (Ed Harris) is the nice guy, the one that allows reaches out to the other salesmen, sure that he could do better across the street with a rival firm or by starting his own office. Aaronow (Alan Arkin), also older, scared of losing his job not only for the loss of income but how it will diminish his humanity. Ricky Romma (Al Pacino), younger, arrogant and the best closer in the office, he looks down on his associates with an aloof distain. The office manager Williamson (Kevin Spacey) is forced by the head office ‘downtown’ to bring in a motivational speaker Blake (Alec Baldwin). Blake is the real estate equivalent of the drill instructor in Full Metal Jacket. He is brutal stating with no sugar coating that only the top two closers will keep their jobs, the others are losers unworthy of even life itself. Life is more than difficult for these men. The leads they have are awful, well worn cards of names of people now tired of hearing the same old sales pitches. Blake brings to the office the almost legendary Glengarry leads, leads so promising that closings are certain. Like the coffee in the office, the leads are only for closers.

Glengarry Glen Ross is a film created from moments in the lives of the characters. Little snippets of their existence as they see everything fall apart. In one scene Levene is on a man’s home, both men know there is absolutely no potential for a sale but the once brilliant salesman in Levene demands the dance be played out. Levene lives on his former success but know must face the truth that he doesn’t have it anymore. Moss reacts by trying to pull Aaronow into a plot to steal the leads, part survival, part revenge against the firm that he holds responsible for his failure.

This cast in Glengarry Glen Ross is perfection. With no female presence the actors here don’t show a testosterone-laden show but rather the side of a man that no man wants to face, the dissolution of his life’s work. In every review I have read for Glengarry Glen Ross the phrase ‘His Best Work Ever’ comes up time and again. There is a simple reason for this, it is the best that the individuals that comprise this ensemble cast every presented to the public. Lemmon is the Willy Loman for the next generation. He shows Levene as a man unable to accept the fact that he can’t compete any more. Pacino make Romma as a Michael Corleone if he chose sales instead of the ‘family business’. Being at the top he is the only one of the four that is able to stand up to the boss and the company. While only on the screen for just over seven minutes Baldwin is in top form here. He is so easy to hate that the little time he spends onscreen is burned into the consciousness of the audience. In fact, most of the famous lines from Glengarry Glen Ross are from his performance. Arkin may seem like he is underplaying his role but actually the undercurrents he brings to his character helps to consolidate the interactions in this screenplay. Harris is his usual professional self. Desperate to hang on to being a salesman he is a man on a mission but he lacks the confidence to act himself. Aside from the individual performances the interaction of these greatest of actors is perhaps the best you will ever see on film.

The vision of director James Foley brought this compelling story to the screen. Aside from a couple of Madonna flicks, Foley has a way of getting the best out of the most talented actors around. His ‘At Close Range’ demonstrated the talents of Christopher Walken and Sean Penn. You can tell that Glengarry Glen Ross was once a play. Most of the action is set either in the office of the restaurant across the street. While many are put off by the simplicity of the sets I personally found it inspired. The audience is not distracted; the focus is where it should be, on the excellent dialogue presented by the top actors. Yet, there is much to be considered by the set design, its bleak, reflecting the hopelessness of the men with it. The walls are plastered by slogans; ‘Salesmen are born not made’ and other such stripe, just rubbing in the pressure these men are under. The framing of the shots can only be appreciated in the original aspect ratio of 2.25:1. In so many scenes one man faces the other, distance between them, each reacting to the bitter words that pass between them. To reduce this to pan and scan is a crime against the audience. The Glengarry Glen Ross leads are a classic McGuffin. We see them briefly but they drive the characters, not the story we see. The city this takes place in could be anywhere. I’ve read it was set in Chicago but the last scene is a ‘D’ train pulling out of Sheepshead Bay. That’s a train I’ve ridden most of my life and a station a couple of blocks from where I live now in Brooklyn, NY.

The Glengarry Glen Ross two-disc set is excellent. The audio is in full DTS or Dolby 5.1. I couldn’t hear much of a difference between the two. The soundstage enfolds you, drawing you into this troubled office. The anamorphic video is without any compression artifacts or edge problems with a dark but realistic color pallet. The first disc contains an interesting commentary track while the second disc holds some of the best extras in awhile. Included is the featurette A.B.C., Always Be Closing, about the psychology of the salesman and a look at the production of Glengarry Glen Ross. Glengarry Glen Ross is a must have for any collection. While the language is not for the kids, Glengarry Glen Ross will pull you in and hold you.

Review by Doug MacLean of

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