David Mamet adapts his stage play and James Foley directs an all-star cast in Glengarry Glen Ross, a fascinating multi-character study of the toll capitalism takes on the human soul. Jack Lemmon, Al Pacino, Ed Harris, and Alan Arkin play real estate salesmen who are called into the office and given one night to turn their old sales leads into gold — or they’re fired. New leads are promised, but only to those who can close the old ones. Under intense pressure to meet their numbers, the men resort to various, dubious tactics. In the end, some are unscathed and some face severe repercussions.
Foley brings some subtle directorial flare to the piece, but as a film, Glengarry Glen Ross is more a master class in writing and acting. On the surface, Mamet’s dialogue is rough, interrupted, and overlapping — organic in the hands of the right actors. He gives his characters’ words and actions deeper, more symbolic meaning without ever putting too fine a point on the characters’ exchanges. Even when you think a character is speaking too much subtext, you’re likely to be surprised by his actions later on. You can enjoy Glengarry Glen Ross as a combative ensemble character piece, but if you’re like me, you’ll enjoy it even more as a modern day fable.
Holy shit, the acting in this movie. Jack Lemmon is incredible. This is one of his finest performances in a career full of highlights. He’s really the main character of the piece — the one who gambles the hardest and has the most to lose. We see him angry, desperate, conniving, gloating, ecstatic, and broken down in tears. It’s a dynamic part that showcases Lemmon’s considerable range. Al Pacino makes the second-biggest impact, as a salesman with seemingly no scruples. His manipulative tactics are so good, they dupe not just Jonathan Pryce (playing a vulnerable potential customer), but the audience as well.
Supporting players are top-notch all around, with Ed Harris and Alan Arkin landing some of Mamet’s trademark, rapid-fire exchanges. Kevin Spacey gives a more subtle performance as the office’s beleaguered manager, while Alec Baldwin nearly steals the show as the men’s hot-tempered regional manager early in the film.
I was initially afraid Glengarry Glen Ross would feel too ‘stagey’ or esoteric. But Mamet and the cast quickly sucked me into their claustrophobic world and made their worries my own. And the film confirms a suspicion I’ve had all along: Being good at sales is almost always in direct conflict with being a good human being.
Oscar Nomination: Best Supporting Actor (Al Pacino)