Glengarry Glen Ross may not be your type of movie.
At a small real estate agency in Chicago, the four-man salesmen staff is about to get a little shock. They're called in one night for a special meeting, a representative from their big boss arriving with a message. That rep, Blake (Alec Baldwin), delivers a simple ultimatum. The salesmen have exactly one week to prove themselves, selling as many units as humanly possible. At the end of the week, the one in the lead will be awarded a car, the second will receive a set of steak knives, and the other two? They'll be looking for work. Doesn't get any simpler than that, does it? Already working on a day-to-day basis with questionable leads to follow and a tough sell, this group has their work cut out for them. Let the hijinks begin.
This is a movie that sat in my Netflix queue for quite awhile. The cast was ridiculously talented, the story certainly interesting, and the reviews were almost uniformly glowing. Well, I caught up with it, and I can honestly say it wasn't what I thought it was going to be. That's not a negative, just a surprise on my end. I had a picture of high-end real estate, an agency in downtown Chicago dealing with huge deals of millions of dollars and gazillionaires. What is it? A far smaller, low-end agency with a cramped, cluttered office where the salesmen use all sorts of underhanded, duplicitous means to finish off a sale. These four salesmen are truly desperate, knowing their jobs and livelihood depend on one week of being able to do their jobs. Talk about pressure.
From director James Foley, 'Ross' is based off a play from David Mamet (who also wrote the screenplay). It clocks in at 100 minutes and generally has the style and feel of a stage-based play. The story takes place over a span of maybe 12, 18 hours and is based in only two locations, the real estate office and the Chinese restaurant across the street where the salesmen go for a bite to eat and get a drink. The rhythm develops like a play, the cast getting a chance to show their stuff in extended scenes of dialogue, setting things up and then letting it all develop. This is a movie about the dialogue, no doubt about it, Mamet's script a gem. The dialogue is fast and furious, the talented cast delivering it in almost machine gun succession, rapid fire that never slows down. 'Ross' isn't a movie about the effects or the style. It's about the acting, the chemistry, the script and the dialogue. Straightforward in its objectives, it's the better for it.
How about that for a slow burn? I haven't even mentioned the cast beyond Baldwin's one-scene, scene-stealing appearance. Haha take that! Foley is working with quite the cast in terms of pure acting power. The real estate salesmen include Ricky Roma (Al Pacino), the fiery, criminally smooth operator and frontrunner for the award for best salesmen, Shelley Levene (Jack Lemmon), the oldest salesmen in the group and maybe the most desperate because of a recent cold streak in sales, George Aaronow (Alan Arkin), the tag-along of sorts, worried about the challenge but letting everyone else lead the way in opinions, and Dave Moss (Ed Harris), the most heated and the one maybe most willing to do something desperate for the job. As the circus master of this crew, Kevin Spacey bides his time as Williamson, their boss who tries to keep them in check while taking an almost constant barrage of criticism from his employees. Also look for Jonathan Pryce as a possible customer working with Roma who has a serious issue with a sale.
Each character gets his chance to shine, none of them disappointing. I was most impressed with Pacino and Lemmon, but that's like saying which pizza is the best. They're all really good, but some are just slightly better. The dialogue crackles from the get-go and never slows down. It can be uncomfortable at times, this crew just ripping each other apart for any number of reasons, from lack of sales to botching a call. Baldwin's cameo gets things going at a 100 miles per hour, demanding that these salesmen 'Always be closing.' It never really slows down. The dialogue is always going, but the camera just follows the conversational acting, letting the conversations and arguments and fights breathe and develop on their own. The movie is 100 minutes long, but it flies by.
I really liked where this one went about the halfway point. You think you know where it's going, and it pulls the rug out from under you. The ending especially caught me by surprise. Oh, and random pop culture tidbit, Lemmon's excellent performance as aging Shelley Levene was quite the inspiration for Gil Gunderson, the disheveled salesmen on The Simpsons.
Glengarry Glen Ross (1992): ***/****