Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)

Synopsis: An examination of the machinations behind the scenes at a real estate office.

For more info and to watch the trailer, click here:

Who chose it: Brent

Why I chose it: I picked this movie because of the acting ensemble and its often-pop-culture-referenced scene featuring Alec Baldwin’s monologue at the beginning of the movie.

Brent’s Review:

“If you really want to be an actor who can satisfy himself and an audience, you need to be vulnerable.” – Jack Lemmon

There are five main players in Glengarry Glen Ross — all salesmen with varying degrees of despicability. Shelley “The Machine” Levine (Jack Lemmon) is a career salesmen well past his prime, struggling to make payments for his loved ones’ hospital bills. Moss (Ed Harris) is a disillusioned salesman who believes himself to be above the petty competitions his workplace subjects him to. George (Alan Arkin) is self-defeating, convinced he is a terrible salesman. Ricky Roma (Al Pacino) is a successful salesman, but is a loner. Finally, Williamson (Kevin Spacey) is their office manager, at least twenty years younger than the youngest salesman in the office.

The setting is just as much a character as the men we observe. The office is small and cramped; the windows are dark, letting very little light in. It’s a true boiler room atmosphere and the men feel the urgency to sell. The film begins with hot-shot executive Blake (Alec Baldwin) stopping by from “downtown” to deliver a warning:

“…we’re adding a little something to this month’s sales contest. As you all know first prize is a Cadillac El Dorado… Second prize is a set of steak knives. Third prize is you’re fired. Get the picture?”

Each character takes turns complaining about how poor their sales leads are, whether because the property they’re selling is unattractive or the customers are poor. However, the promise of a successful sale entices them: there are new leads — good leads! — in from the corporate office and they will be assigned only to closers.

Glengarry Glen Ross is a study of vulnerability — how we show it, who we show it to, and what lengths we will go to trying to hide it. Each man is vulnerable in a unique way. Shelley leads with confidence, reserving vulnerability to moments of solitude; Moss weaponizes his vulnerability, proposing to steal the new leads from the office and sell them to a competitor; George’s vulnerability betrays him as he mistakes Moss’ listening ear for trust and becomes accessory to a crime; Roma uses his vulnerability as a sales tactic, suckering in a man who really shouldn’t be investing in real estate.

The film was written by David Mamet, who worked for a short time as an officer manager in a real estate firm. The excellent writing enables the impeccable acting. The ensemble trade quips in a barrage of insults, expletives, and shop-talk lingo that is sometimes so good that it distracts from the plot — I’ll let you decide if that’s a compliment or complaint. In particular, Lemmon is astonishing in his portrayal of a fragile man who has made a life of learned-confidence.

When the credits roll and the conflicts remain unresolved, can we say if we’ve really learned anything? I can. I learned I could never cut it as a salesman, no matter how strong the leads.

Leah’s Review:

My interest in “Glengarry Glen Ross” was due mostly to its all-star cast, including a couple of my favorite actors- Kevin Spacey and Alan Arkin. When I watched the trailer, it made the film look like a fun crime movie (very reminiscent of Ocean’s Eleven). So when we watched the actual movie, I was very surprised to find that it was more of a drama and light moments were few and far between (I was also disappointed to find that Alec Baldwin, who plays an extremely successful and abrasive salesman, was only in one scene).

Somehow I also missed that “Glengarry Glen Ross” was based on a play. Despite this, I picked up on that pretty quickly. I’m not sure if it’s a good thing or a bad thing that it is so obviously a play turned movie- but I think the element that makes it work is the acting. For me, the plot was a little thin for a screenplay- but the casting makes up for this in some truly great performances. You root for the underdogs like Shelley Levine (Jack Lemmon), admire the coolness and charm of Ricky Roma (Al Pacino), and are exasperated by John Williamson’s (Spacey) cold and total lack of empathy for his employees. The actors in “Glengarry Glen Ross” are truly masters of the film world and make these characters come alive.

My criticisms of “Glengarry Glen Ross” were the aforementioned plot which I didn’t find to be extremely exciting and the ending left something to be desired. I was actually shocked when the movie ended (seemingly abrupt), because I felt like there could have been so much more to the story. Maybe I missed the point- I’m not sure. I wouldn’t say that I didn’t like the movie, I really enjoyed the performances. But I think I might enjoy watching this particular story on the stage instead.

Next Up: Buckle your seat-belts, hipsters. Next week we’ll be watching the 2012 indie film “Frances Ha”. Connoisseurs of black-and-white movies, rejoice!

Peace out, kids.


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