Cast: Jack Lemmon (Shelley Levene), Al Pacino (Ricky Roma), Alec Baldwin (Blake), Alan Arkin (George), Ed Harris (Dave), Kevin Spacey (John Williamson)
Writer: David Mamet (play & screenplay)
Director: James Foley
With a cast made up by Jack Lemmon, Al Pacino, Alec Baldwin, Kevin Spacey, Ed Harris and Alan Arkin, there is little that can go wrong.
Adapted from a play of the same name, Glengarry Glen Ross feels very much like a theatrical piece, limited to a handful of sets and driven by characters with large personalities, the kind that make for perfect salesmen and convincing theater actors.
Among the performances, which are all of the highest quality, Jack Lemmon delivers the film’s best as Shelley Levene. He combines the largesse and charisma of a real state salesman that is desperate to close deals, and the stress of a man who must continue to provide for his family. Of the group, Shelley is also the most complex character, defined not just by greed and competition, but by an underlying sense of responsibility to his family that drives him over the edge. His eyes are not only filled with frustration and fear, but they are also filled with sadness, as if his life depended exclusively on his professional success.
Without a single woman to counterbalance these men on screen, the film exudes manliness. Though there is plenty of comradery, these group of salesmen are sharks, looking after their own interests and willing to bend a rule or two to come out on top. As much as it is about their livelihoods, the struggle they face within a 24-hour period is also about their manhood. Can they demonstrate they still got it? Which one will be the man’s man at the end of the day?
In this age of Wall Street and unbridled capitalism, the film is a sobering take on a microcosm of society that is exclusively driven by money. These salesmen, who are all very different people, behave as extensions of their bank accounts, measured as men by the amount of deals they have been able to close.
Glengarry Glen Ross is also driven by a confident script. Almost every line is meant to hold on its own, supported on the charisma of the performers. It is no surprise the film has endured in time as a collection of one-liners and rapid-fire exchanges. There is plenty of material for each character to leave a mark, even for those with considerably less screen time. There is, for instance, the hilarious solo opener by Alec Baldwin, or the now famous exchange between Kevin Spacey and Jack Lemmon towards the end of the film (would you go to lunch?)
Glengarry Glen Ross is perhaps the best film that has ever been made about real estate salesmen, and one of the best displays by an ensemble of actors ever put on the big screen.