Friday, 9 November 2018

Filmstruck Friday: Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)

I haven't seen many other movies directed by James Foley. I can't even say that I remember his name when I am not ensuring that I get the details right for this movie review. But he's the man at the helm of one of my favourite films. Yet, and I know this may seem unfair, he's probably the person I would credit least with helping to make this film great. I save most of the praise for the writer, David Mamet adapting his own play for the screen, and the cast, which I will get to in due course.

The plot revolves around a bunch of real estate salesmen who get quite a shock when the company sends along a no-nonsense "axeman" to lay down the law - the top salesman will get a prize, the second will get a lesser prize, third place gets you fired. Knowing that there are a whole stack of new, promising, sales leads in the office, the group start to be tempted, being used to doing whatever it takes to get sales and earning their own commission.

It's hard not to write this review and just fill up space with choice quotes from this movie. Fans of Mamet will already know him as quite the wordsmith, pick any film he's been a part of and you can find some magnificent dialogue, but this may well be his best work, which is quite the compliment when you think of his other stuff (off the top of my head, I highly recommend both House Of Games and The Spanish Prisoner). It's not just the individual soundbites here, Glengarry Glen Ross is an ensemble piece that makes sure everyone involved has at least one chance to relish their role.

Where to begin with the cast? Al Pacino is there, giving a very entertaining performance even as he teeters on the edge of the full self-parody he would ease into by the mid-1990s, Ed Harris is at his angry best, and Alan Arkin is a man who feels less assured and more out of place among the more savage salesmen he works with. Jonathan Pryce is also wonderful for every moment he's onscreen, playing a potential customer being "wooed" by Pacino. You also get Kevin Spacey as the man in charge of the office, and in charge of those precious sales leads, and Alec Baldwin in such a brilliant bit of scene-stealing that I believe, but could be wrong, it set him on the right path of decades of scene-stealing ahead of him, something he does so much better than any lead roles (sorry Alec . . . like he'd ever read this). Despite all of that talent on display, and not one of the cast members lets the side down, the best performance in the movie comes from the one and only Jack Lemmon. It's hard to properly convey just how absolutely brilliant he is here, giving a masterclass in acting as his character is, by turns, bitter, manipulative, charming, depressed, elated, foolish, wise, and more. He seems to be the hungriest of the group, a hunger born of his current situation and his recollection of his past glory days.

Okay, I guess I should give more credit to Foley. Not only does he make sure that the camera is pointing the right way (although this is a very unfussy adaptation of the play that could just as easily have been, with a few tweaks, a straight recording of the show) but he makes the most of the cast and does a great job of not trying to fix anything that isn't broken. Unlike the onscreen events, this is very much a team effort.

The only things stopping Glengarry Glen Ross from being a perfect movie for me are the fact that a) it feels a bit stagey during the few times when I am not distracted by the script, b) I would have preferred some better resolutions for a couple of characters who just end up exiting before the final scenes, and c) there is no c. I just wouldn't have felt right if I ended the review without a reminder to Always Be Closing.


You can buy this fantastic movie here.
Americans can buy it here.

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