Glengarry Glen Ross is, first and foremost, a movie that has significantly less Alec Baldwin than I was expecting. Seriously, he is in exactly one scene, but if you ask pop culture, he is the star of the film.
Also Glengarry is a word that I constantly feel like I'm spelling incorrectly, so points off for that.
It's the story of a group of salesmen, most of whom are failing rather than thriving, and have made a career out of trying to sell questionable plots of land to "leads". There is a lot of bitching about the quality of the leads in this movie -- the ragtag group of salesmen seem to fee like they would be so much more successful if only they had access to the much lauded Glengarry leads.
It's a vicious cycle, where you can only get the good leads if you're a high volume seller, but you can only become a high volume seller if you get the good leads. To be fair, though, I have a feeling that even if these guys had the good leads, they would still be full of excuses whenever they can't deliver.
So there's absolutely no way of overlooking the fact that this film was originally written as a play, and a David Mamet play at that. It is hyper-structured, with almost all of the action taking place in one room -- their depressing, bare bones office. This combined with the straightforward, minimalist directing style all contribute to this film feeling more like a play than most of the stuff you see on Broadway. There's even a little bit of Pinter's second definition of silence if you squint, where everyone is speaking but it's such repetitive nonsense that it is largely rendered meaningless.
It should come as no surprise that the performances are a huge part of what make this film work -- if you're going to attempt an adaptation of David Mamet, you're really going to need high caliber actors firing on all cylinders. Glengarry Glen Ross features an amazing cast playing special kinds of screw-ups. I mean, you've got Ed Harris, Al Pacino, Kevin Spacey, Alan Arkin, and Jack Lemmon. That is like the Avengers of white male actors.
These are all men who were either never that good at being a salesman or had their glory days firmly in the rearview mirror. Alan Arkan just doesn't seem like he was ever cut out for this line of work, Ed Harris is angry and defensive in that very specific way of people who have no confidence in their own abilities, and as for poor sweet Jack Lemmon, well, it has been a very long time since he made a sale and desperation clings to him tighter than his ill-fitting suit, a Willy Loman for the modern age.
The one exception is Al Pacino. He's smooth and is doing just fine, having hooked a wealthy buyer for one of his bullshit properties. (Whether he can hang onto the sale long enough for the check to clear is something else entirely.)
So who is our hero in Glengarry Glen Ross? The men who feel so hard done by that they plot to steal the leads from their bosses and sell them to a competitor? Or the tired old man on his last dime who is so convinced that one sale is going to turn everything around for him that he'll do anything to get a good lead? Or the long-suffering office manager whose slavish devotion to being a company man makes him an enemy to all of his colleagues? I mean, there's really just not a lot of winners here.
Finding an MVP in terms of acting, on the other hand, is a slightly easier prospect. There are a lot of great actors here, but there are certainly a few standouts.
Al Pacino, who was nominated for an Academy Award, gives one of his better performances, abandoning the all-screaming-all-the-time approach he adopted during the 90s in favor of something slightly more nuanced.
Well, I did say slightly.
Yes, Al Pacino is the one who got credit from the Academy, but to my way of thinking, Jack Lemmon does some of his best work here. And for Jack Lemmon, that's saying a lot. He's such a sad, rumpled figure who is getting close to his retirement years but has absolutely nothing to show for it. But he's also a greasy salesman whose practiced "smooth talking" cadence while he's on the phone with potential buyers makes me visibly shudder and, despite his schlubby exterior, he can be a real nasty son of a bitch when he wants to be. I feel sorry for him but at the same time he repulses me, which is a hard line for an actor to walk.
Glengarry Glen Ross, on the whole, is sort of a hard movie for me to suss out how I feel about. Objectively, the writing is solid and the performances are 100% beyond reproach. But there's something about it that just fails to engage me beyond a surface level, for whatever reason. I don't know if the stakes within the story aren't high enough or if it just isn't my thing, but I don't think I see myself watching this movie again of my own accord. Nothing against it, it's a solid film, but once was probably enough.
And seriously Alec Baldwin is in approximately none of this film, I find myself feeling tremendously lied to.