Sour Lemmon but Sweet Movie
"Always Be Closing" has to be one of the most famous quotes to have come out of David Mamet's masterpiece "Glengarry Glen Ross" and sets the tone as we watch four real estate salesmen hustle to make a living trying to make deals with worthless leads. But it is the powerhouse performances from it's cast of A-list stars including Jack Lemmon, Al Pacino, Ed Harris, Alan Arkin, Kevin Spacey and Alec Baldwin which makes it work, which captivate you with testosterone fuelled performances that demand you to pay attention to every second of "Glengarry Glen Ross" as the story reveals itself.
In a New York real estate office, the four salesmen are delivered a shock when hot shot salesman Blake (Alec Baldwin - Working Girl) informs them that unless they start selling they will be facing the sack. Given dud leads to try and talk and con into investing in real estate the pressure of the situation affects each of them differently which is made all the worse when they discover that the offices have been burgled and the finger of suspicion is on them.
David Mamet adapted his own award winning stage play into the screenplay for "Glengarry Glen Ross" and it shows, there are minimal locations, not a huge cast or lots of extras and "Glengarry Glen Ross" is predominantly about the characters and dialogue. It works well allowing us a fascinating look at these varied bunch of cold calling salesman and the fact that the storyline is slim doesn't spoil things. In fact it makes it better it allows the focus of the movie to be on the interactions, the emotions, the arguments and most importantly Mamet's stunning dialogue.
After a brief intro in the bar across from the offices we get the first big moment and it features Alec Baldwin delivering one of his most memorable performances as a self important sales expert. The monologue which Baldwin delivers is almost over flowing with bile as he not only lays into every single one of the sales men but rubs their nose in both his success and their ineptness. It's a terrific performance from Baldwin right up their with Michael Douglas's Gordon Gekko as he spews the virtues of making money no matter what it takes.
What follows is a slew of powerhouse performances delivering stunningly raw often abusive dialogue littered with emotion and swearing. Jack Lemmon is frankly brilliant as Shelley 'The Machine' Levene, once the best salesman in the office now on a run of bad luck who also has to deal with a sick daughter in hospital in need of an operation he somehow has to pay for. You get a real sense that whilst Shelley can turn on the patter as slick as the next person, and Lemmon demonstrates with ease how easy it is to con whilst cold calling, you also get a sense that he is tired off it all, the pressure, stress and strain of working in a business which has changed since his days of being the top dog.
Alongside Lemmon is Al Pacino who gives an equally impressive performance as the current top salesman Ricky Roma. It's a flamboyant character and an equally flamboyant performance with Pacino letting loose the fiery temperament in such a spell binding manner that you feel for anyone who is on the receiving end of it. But like Lemmon you get to witness his own sales patter, the deviousness of trying to wheedle his way out of a sticky situation when his latest victim wants out. In the scene where he tries to smooth talk his customer played by Jonathan Pryce you get every ounce of a slick salesman who is constantly thinking on his feet and will lie and cheat his way out of trouble.
Making up the impressive cast of salesmen are Ed Harris as David Moss, a salesman who emanates the feelings that many workers can associate with as he wants to stick it to his bosses and the company who he believes are treating him so badly. And also Alan Arkin who plays an almost indecisive salesman who is so lacking in sales that he doubts his own ability. Harris and Arkin are almost a pairing, sharing many of their scenes together and although "Glengarry Glen Ross" is not a comedy there is something slightly comical about their conversations as Harris manipulates Arkin so easily.
If that wasn't enough running the office is Kevin Spacey who as a relatively minor player back in 1992 has a relatively small role as the manager of the office. But despite a smallish role and without the huge amount of dialogue which the main stars get to deliver he still manages to deliver a powerful performance as the hated manager. You get a sense that he has little respect for those who work for him and gets some sort of satisfaction watching them suffer.
Something which is noticeable is that "Glengarry Glen Ross" is not so much littered with expletives but at times smothered in such virulent swearing that it can become quite shocking. But then the swearing is in character and is delivered during such powerful dialogue that it feels natural when one of them swears at another as the pressure of the situation rises to boiling point.
What this all boils down to is that packed to the seams with stunning dialogue and power house performances "Glengarry Glen Ross" truly is a brilliant movie. Everything about it is fast paced, real, brutal and although the storyline takes a back seat to the wonderful character examinations it keeps you guessing right to the point of perfection.