Glengarry Glen Ross review by The Grim Ringler

As a kid (he said, aging himself horribly) there were certain movies that stuck out in our minds and lives much more vividly than the rest of the crap that was being launched down the Hollywood production line. And ranked among such movies as Goodfellas, Reservoir Dogs, Mean Streets, Taxi Driver and the rest was Glengarry Glen Ross. Filled with an unrelentingly nasty feel and dialogue born to be memorized and spouted off by dorky teenage boys, it was, to us, an instant classic. I was happy to see, on a recent viewing of the DVD that the film has held up very well since its initial release.

Set in a cramped and testosterone drenched hole-in-the-wall real estate office, this is where salesman come to die. Working to sell the same swampland to the same leads (essentially people who showed some vague interest in this land development but never really much wanted to buy), these are men desperate for a sale and their desperation only grows when a ‘motivational speaker’ that is more shark than salesman comes into the office to send a message from the company’s faceless owners Mitch and Murray – sell or walk. Anyone who cannot sell ‘X’ amount of dollars worth of real estate is fired, those that can sell will be rewarded with either a car or a steak knife set. Needless to say, the deck is stacked against the salesman and they know it. And as the pressure mounts after that meeting, the true faces of these salesmen begin to show through. As two of the men plot to steal the new sales leads meant to be a reward for salesman who make sales, from the office manager’s office, another searches for a way to get those leads himself, bribery being his last chance. And while these desperate men work to find a way to keep a job they loathe, working harder on NOT selling than they do selling, the best salesman in the office works his magic in seducing a stranger into buying some property from him. During that long, rainy night though someone sneaks into the office and steals the new leads so they can sell them to another agency for a tidy sum. But as the tension in the office mounts and the salesmen begin to crack under the scrutiny of the police and their office manager, one slip up spells out all too clearly who has really pulled the theft, and for that person, everything is lost.

This was initially a one-set play written by the of-times brilliant David Mamet and it feels like it. The scant sets that are here are merely backdrop for some of the greatest dialogue ever written for film. Hell, I will go out on a limb and proclaim this the best script ever written. With neither a hint of special effects nor one gun fired, this film builds a tension and sense of dread that most thrillers are lucky to attain.

The star of the show really is Jack Lemmon as the sad-sack salesman willing to sell his soul if it can help him get some money together to get his ill daughter the hospital care she needs. Played balls-out and full-bore, this is a part that most actors would have a hard time playing but which Lemmon makes look like child’s play. Using false bravado and a slew of slurs as armor, Lemmon is a nuclear meltdown that never happens, his character to weak and beaten down to even muster the guts to walk away. He is a man who was the king of the world once but who has lived long enough to watch himself free-fall his way to nothingness. It is such a subtle performance amongst a cast or brilliantly portrayed tyrants and blowhards that you aren’t sure, when all is said and done, if this man was a tragic victim or selfish villain. The direction is equally subtle and uses the sets to set a mood and nothing more. The director knows this film is all about the actors and what they are saying and never complicates things with fancy shots or needless symbolism. Aside from Lemmon, the entire cast really is remarkable, each one creating a character that is as real as they are, Ed Harris’s miserable bully perhaps being only second to Lemmon in terms of complexity.

The DVD is as much a tribute to Lemmon as it is to this highly influential film and script and the extras, while not overpowering, are nice. The two standouts here are the all too brief documentary about a salesman, and the hilarious snippet taken from an acting studio which has Kevin Spacey trading lines with a young actor who is a fan of Glengarry. The DVD looks fantastic and maintains a pretty dog-gone clear image, though this isn’t a film which with to show off your sound system.

An all around great film and a classic actor’s film. Not a prefect film – ‘cause it’s talking heads after all, and as great as it may be, it wavers on boring more than a few times – but a solid film nonetheless and one with some of the most memorable lines of anything I have ever seen. A must for movie fans and young actors.


8 out of 10 Jackasses
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