You know why I know this is a good movie? My mom, who does not give 2 shits about cinema, stopped doing what she was doing and started watching the movie with me. No context, no questions asked, nothing. All she wanted to do was listen to the conversation unfolding on screen. David Mamet, do you know the magnitude of your accomplishment!
Glengarry Glen Ross is a drama film directed by James Foley, written by David Mamet and stars Al Pacino, Jack Lemmon, Alec Baldwin, Ed Harris, Alan Arkin, Kevin Spacey and Jonathan Pryce. The film follows two days in the life of 4 real estate salesmen and their boss after a new target is set for them owing to some underperformance.
That is a seemingly wafer thin plot set in motion by David Mamet as he writes a screenplay based on his Tony and Pulitzer winning stage play. Mamet is a surprisingly forgotten name amongst the general film going public. Most people are familiar with his work but Mamet has rarely been held on the high pedestal that a Tarantino or Sorkin is. His filmography includes the endlessly watchable State and Main, modern classic The Untouchables and the take-it-or-leave-it follow-up to The Silence Of The Lambs, Hannibal. But through all those acclaimed works, Glengarry Glen Ross rises to the top.
There are many reasons as to why this film resonates with such a large audience. While the laser focused direction and hilariously profane script are what warm me to it, the magnetic performances by its 5 leads are never far behind. The film has Al Pacino who adds just the right amount of Al Pacino to it, Alan Arkin and Ed Harris with brilliant turns as disgruntled employees to Kevin Spacey’s understated boss and Alec Baldwin who walks in R. Lee Ermey’s everyone and walks out almost stealing the movie (you’ve seen the scene with the one line and the brass balls).
But the theme of the film, a scathing inditement of the American dream, is essayed out to absolute perfection by a grandfatherly Jack Lemmon. A hot shot salesman in his prime, Shelly Levine’s world comes crashing down as the very real possibility of him losing his sole source of income dawns on him.
The story of a man pushed to the very edge with no looking back is always compelling as it makes for empathetic characters but when said character is fuelled by a measured performance like this one, it elevates the film to a level reserved for a select few. The very deliberate set design which places the cast of characters at positions of hierarchy and the specific dialogues written for each of them open a window to the ever fading middle class and draws a parallel to the much-acclaimed Death of A Salesman.
While salesmen, at least the sort shown in the film, are few and far between in modern day, the film’s sobering message is one that is relevant forever. The dog-eat-dog world we inhabit which empowers youth and sidelines the old might be maligned but is still one we choose to live in. The film is geared toward making an audience take a deep look at the world around them, the endless parade of zingers, quips, jokes and insults help keep the film entertaining till that lump falls into your stomach at the final shot.