Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Glengarry Glen Ross (Foley. 1992)

"'Cause only one thing counts in this world: get them to sign on the line which is dotted!"

When I started this blog I made it pretty apparent to any reader that I was a college student. I have now been out of college for about one year, and I pretty much still feel like a kid. My current work situation has me hosting four hours of country music radio every weekday, and working in an office with several people who make up our sales team. After seeing how these sales people operate, I have come to the conclusion that I do not mind still feeling like a noob - as long as I don't have to hate my life by wasting away in sales.

That profession is the center subject of one of the more dialogue-heavy English language movies on the "1001", Glengarry Glen Ross. It also happens to be a movie that fully encapsulates my nightmares. Who on this great Earth would want to sell real estate from a shady office below the L-Train?! The interior of the office itself looks like it was furnished using the bare bones technique. There is a sectioned off office area with big glass windows to separate the boss (Kevin Spacey) from his sales staff of peons. The sales staff (Pacino, Lemmon, Arkin, Harris) get the luxury of sitting in plain, empty desks making heartbreakingly desperate phone calls while the boss sits in his office flaunting the "good" leads (cards that contain the names of potential real estate buyers). From the opening moment in the film you can see that a life in this office is not a good one to live. And it is about to get a whole lot worse.

The most famous moment in Glengarry Glen Ross happens within the first few moments of the film. Blake is a hot-shot from the ever mysterious "downtown" who is here to inform the motley sales team of the newest incentives for sales. This month's contest prizes are pretty varied. First prize: new Cadillac. Second prize: set of steak knives. Third prize: you're fired. All of this is laid out to the audience and the staff in a profanity-ridden monologue that is delivered perfectly by Alec Baldwin. I understand that in 2013 Baldwin is a polarizing actor due to his mouth, but his only moment in Glengarry Glen Ross makes the entire picture.

The movie is based on a play written by David Mamet. I had the great pleasure of reading the play while in college and it is worth noting that Blake is not a character in the source material. Mamet also wrote the screenplay for the film and added Baldwin's character as a way to kick-start the action before letting his masterful dialogue take over the film. The way the characters talk to each other in the movie is harsh, profane and sad. Mamet creates a world with his writings where this type of speech is the common language. I personally love the numerous reaction shots caught by Foley's camera after almost every sentence. As the film rides on, the sales staff become more and more desperate to not necessarily win, but rather to simply not be fired. The emptiness behind their eyes becomes more evident by the minute.

Though Al Pacino garnered the film's only Academy Award nomination, Jack Lemmon is the real protagonist (albeit in an unconventional form of the term). He plays Shelley "The Machine" Levene - a once great salesman who is no longer making any money. His wife is in the hospital and desperation drips from his mouth with every word. It is a wonder that the man doesn't just physically collapse by the conclusion, though it would be safe to say that he does collapse morally. I think it is interesting, though I could be reaching that Mamet chose to give the most floundering character a name that has been shared by both genders. It is obvious that the entire production is a statement on greed and business, but I think masculinity has a major role in the goings on as well. Blake almost makes Shelly cry at the start of the film, perhaps implying that Levene can no longer hack it in a man's world.

Glengarry Glen Ross indirectly asks the audience a very simple question - are you man enough to close the deal? A. always B. be C. closing. It is the urgency behind the ABC mentality that gets the film off the ground, but it is  Mamet's cadenced words that turn the movie into something special. Everyone is impacted differently by the actions surrounding the conclusion, but nothing is really concluded by the end. At just 100 minutes in runtime, Glengarry Glen Ross is a must see for actors and a should see for everyone else.

Glengarry Glen Ross: A-

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