Glengarry Glen Ross is proof of what can happen when you put a great script in the hands of an ensemble of dynamite actors. In many ways Glengarry Glen Ross shouldn’t work. It’s largely about people sitting around talking, has minimal plot, and never fully escapes the stage that David Mamet’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play was originally presented on.
However, what in many films would be seen as shortcomings are here the movie’s greatest strengths, as it allows the film to concentrate on the electric dynamism of Mamet’s dialogue in the hands of one of the best groups of actors ever assembled for a film (even Jack Lemmon said it was the best cast he’d ever been involved with, which is saying something). After all, it contains four Oscar-winners and two more Oscar nominees, which is certainly an impressive line-up, especially as likes of Kevin Spacey weren’t that well known when it was made.
The film is about a group of real estate salesmen who are called into the office one evening so that the bombastic Blake (Alec Baldwin) can tell them that if they don’t get in the top two for sales the following month, they’re going to be fired. However many of them are stuck in the catch 22 situation that as they’re not already top of the sales board, they only get rubbish leads, and they can’t get top of the board without good leads.
The movie explores the mind-set of these salesmen, including Jack Lemmon’s Shelley Levene, who’s on a losing streak and desperately needs to get back on top. However his rather beaten down demeanour (which has been parodied for years in The Simpsons’ Gil), hides the arrogance underneath. There’s also top salesman Ricky Roma (Al Pacino), a silver-tongued, slick operator who, like his colleagues, will do anything to make a sale, even if that means leaving the truth and morality in the dust. Dave (Ed Harris) meanwhile has a plan to make some cash and screw over the company, while John (Kevin Spacey) tries to hold the office together, despite being the target of abuse from his underlings.
The next morning there’s been a break-in, an event that begins to reveal the truth about these men.
Ever since it was made, Glengarry Glen Ross has been used to teach real salesman the dos and don’ts of selling, although hopefully they’re being told the film has more don’ts than dos. These are arrogant men who have to be that way as they’ve invested so much of their self-worth in being the top man and a slick operator. The cast play this to perfection, particularly Jack Lemmon, who’s stunning as a man who doesn’t know where he ends and the amoral salesman he thinks he’s meant to be begins.
Interestingly, when it was made in 1992 it was a commentary on the tail end of the 80s era of excess, but in 2012 it seems more timely than ever. If you substitute real estate for banks or tabloid newspapers, you have a sharp insight into the culture of bravado and ‘only results matter’ attitude that results in financial collapses and hacking phones. In Glengarry, nobody questions the morality of what they’re doing because everyone else is doing it and they feel they’ll fall behind if they don’t, so it stops being about right and wrong – it’s just the way it is.
Glengarry Glen Ross is a superb movie that manages to keep you enraptured even when it’s just a lengthy scene of two guys talking to one another. Mamet’s script is famed for its 120+ uses of the ‘f’ word, but in-between those is wonderful, dynamic dialogue that gets into the heads of the characters and the culture they represent.
It’s a truly great movie, and this Blu-ray edition looks very good. While there’s not a lot of action, the lighting, editing and production design is far more important than it might first appear, and this HD edition really brings that out. Like many early 90s films, there’s a slightly too bright, overly crisp feel to the movie, but while that’s a problem with some films, it perfectly fits Glengarry’s fast-talking world, where appearances are everything no matter how deceptive those appearances are. The edges on the image are clean and the blacks are deep, which is particularly important in the slightly noir-feeling, night set, rain-sodden first half of the film. You may not think it’s the type of movie that needs an HD upgrade, but when you see it on Blu-ray you realise how much depth it brings to the offices, diners and bars it’s set in.
There’s also a good selection of special features, including the very interesting ‘ABC: Always Be Closing’ featurette, which looks at the history of the salesman in US art, and how Glengarry fits within that. Ever since Arthur Miller’s 1949 play Death Of A Salesman, the salesman been a complex figure used to contrast the promise of the American dream with the reality. The disc also includes a couple of featurettes and interviews concentrating on Jack Lemmon’s involvement, which are worth a look as Glengarry may well be his greatest performance. There’s are various other bits and pieces, including Kevin Spacey chatting on ‘Inside The Actor’s Studio’, a 1960s short film documentary about a real-life American salesman and some selected scenes cast & crew commentaries. It will all certainly keep you occupied beyond the movie, and if you find yourself without a BD player, this new double-play edition also includes the film on DVD.
Overall Verdict: A very good HD release for a masterclass in script and acting, which is even more prescient today than it was when it was made.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac