Monday, January 26, 2015

2015 Blind Spot Series: Glengarry Glen Ross



At the tail end of 2014, I decided that I would take part in Ryan McNeil's  2015 Blindspot Series. The idea is to make a list of 12 movies that you haven't seen even though lots of people say you should've watched them years ago. Tackling them one per month makes it a less daunting task and enables you to put a dent in that "to watch" list you've been constantly adding to for the last...forever. With January almost over, I had to get on the ball and take on the first movie from my list. Well, I had to decide what that was going to be since, unlike most people who are participating, I declined to say which order I would be watching them in. With a little bit of thinking, which really means I played eeny meeny miny moe, I settled upon...


This 1992 film was adapted from David Mamet's Pulitzer Prize and Tony winning play of the same name by none other than Mamet, himself. James Foley sat in the director's chair. Truthfully, it appears that he did little more than stay out of the way. It was the best job he could possibly have done. A phenomenal script and a magnificent cast did all the heavy lifting for him. Wisely, he let them. He has never, before or since reached such cinematic heights as he does, here.

The story centers on one particular branch in a real estate company. It's floundering and has low morale to go right along with its poor sales. The agents are bummed out over the lousy leads they've been given to work. These are phone numbers of people who either can't afford or have no desire to buy real estate. They all want, but haven't been given the lucrative Glengarry leads, presumably these are people who have both the means and desire to invest in land. However, one agent isn't complaining - Ricky Roma (Al Pacino). He's on a hot streak, making money hand over fist while his co-workers are struggling to make ends meet. To shake things up, company big wigs Mitch and Murray (never seen) send in a snarling, fire-breathing dragon in the form of Blake (Alec Baldwin) to deliver some not-so-happy news. He informs the disgruntled bunch that the top two sellers in the office this month will have access to the Glengarry leads. Everyone else will be fired. Of course, this goes over like a turd in the punch bowl, but it is what it is. And off we go with our scrambling salesmen trying to secure their future in the business.

Even if you didn't know that this was adapted from a play, it certainly feels like it right from the start. The locations are extremely limited and rather intimate. Most of it takes place in the office. The remaining parts are either in a car or a restaurant with one excursion into someone's home. Second, it's entirely driven by dialogue. We get nearly two hours of people talking without even a hint of "action" in the traditional sense. Still, the movie flies by and is intriguing as all get out. This is due to the fact we have great actors working with a great script and selling the shit out of it. Pun absolutely intended.


After finally getting to see this, it's surprising to me that this movie only garnered one acting nomination at the Oscars that year. It's equally surprising that it was Al Pacino who got it. Don't get me wrong, Pacino was great. I enjoyed his performance immensely. For my money, though, it's Jack Lemmon as Shelley that blows almost everyone else away. He perfectly conveys the desperation of a salesman who is in a slump, losing confidence by the moment, yet still toiling away. This is a guy who knows his pitch, he just has to get back to delivering it perfectly, like he did in the old days. He gives the movie heart. He's the one guy we feel sympathy for. Scenes of him begging office manager Williamson (Kevin Spacey) for better leads is gut-wrenching. There are points in the movie where he's so pathetic, you just want to give him a hug. However, you know that he'd just refuse the offer, clear his throat, and dial another number.

There is one performance that rivals, if not surpasses, Lemmon's. It's what Alec Baldwin does with his only scene in the movie. His character reveal near the beginning of the film, when he tells a bewildered George (Alan Arkin) to put the coffee down because "Coffee is for closers only." is what roped me in and got me fully invested in what was going on. Here is where I make a bit of a confession. I was actually a life-insurance salesman for several years and sold computers to businesses for a couple more. My career wasn't so hot, hence why I'm no longer a salesman. I would've fit right at home with the guys in this office. The point of telling you this is so you understand my perspective on Baldwin's character. I've heard many of his exact words from nearly every one of my manager's at every stop in my life as a salesman, often with the same profanity-laced verve. I can't possibly tell you how accurate his portrayal is. I will say that it's pretty frightening how dead-on everything about him is. When he goes over "ABC" (Always Be Closing), tells the agents he's berating how much he could sell with those same crappy leads, and flaunts his watch as "more expensive than your car," I was having serious flashbacks and laughing my ass off.


Yes, I do place the work of Lemmon and Baldwin head and shoulders of the rest. That said, they are all terrific, too. I've already spoke about Pacino. There's also excellent work turned in by Alan Arkin, Ed Harris, and then little known actor by the name of Kevin Spacey. Each guy seizes the opportunity when he gets his chance to shine. All are able to imbue their characters with nuance which sufficiently layers them. Harris comes closest to giving a one-note performance as he spends much of his screen time barking at the others. However, he does have some quieter moments and these are the times we really get to see how his character thinks and understand his motivations. Spacey shows great restraint, not something he's generally known for. Lastly, Arkin is a bit underused and is mostly just someone on whom Harris's character can unload all their frustrations. Arkin does plenty with precious little and the movie is better for it.

What a way to kick off the 2015 Blindspot Series. I am extremely happy I finally sat down to watch Glengarry Glen Ross. It shows us what is possible when great writing and great acting meet in the same place. It also reminded of my not so distant past. This is a major plus for the movie because it proves that even 23 years later, the movie is wholly relevant. Those of you that have had the fortune, or misfortune, to work in sales know that the atmosphere is depicted perfectly, right down to that air of competition hanging over every triumph and failure. Much of what was left unexplained lent authenticity to it all. Notice how each guy sticks to a well rehearsed script every time he calls a potential client on the phone. Also notice how he tries to not leave an out for this person when trying to set up an appointment time. It's never said in the movie that these are things that should be done. These are all veteran sales guys. They just do them instinctively after years of being in the game. Even as they fake their way through so many conversations, all of it just feels so real.


17 comments:

  1. Yes, Lemmon is the clear MVP and his lack of Oscar nomination is weird, and kind of gross. I didn't like this much. I thought that the screenplay was overworked and felt extremely dated and didn't play well to the 'theater adaptation' route. Like, it needed different formatting. But, I'm glad you liked it, and welcome to the Blind Spot club!

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    1. Having been in sales might have biased me toward this film. The conversations feel dead on to me. If anything is amiss for me its the twist involving Lemmon feels like a bit of a cheat. Since we're with him until so late, the when is awfully murky. Other than that I loved it.

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    2. It's weird, because when I mention not liking this to anyone who really likes it, they often say the same thing, about how they're in sales (or were in sales) and how that may be why I don't care for it...and then I have to tell them that I've been in sales for 14 years.

      :-P

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    3. Wow. My bad. Just proves that nothing is absolute.

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  2. Glad you finally got around to checking it out! I think we talked briefly about the film once before. It's just fun to be a fly on the wall and listen to these sales guys talk and talk and....talk. Glengarry Glen Ross has rewatchability written all over it due to the screenplay and performances. I must say it was also intriguing to read a review of the film by someone who has been in sales himself.

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    1. I can definitely see myself rewatching this often. Listening to these guys is like reliving a chunk of my past. The dialogue is spot on. Very happy I watched this.

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  3. PUT THAT COCOA DOWN!!!! COCOA IS FOR CODDLERS!!! I love this film. Especially Alec Baldwin's appearance as he would reprise that role in a SNL sketch where he was getting the elves to get their shit together. Yet, there was one moment where he flubbed the line "Always be closing" where he was supposed to say "Always be coddling". I also love Jack Lemmon in this film as I think he was the best performance in that film along with Baldwin.

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    1. Cocoa is for coddlers, lol. I've never seen that SNL skit I'll have to Youtube it. Baldwin and Lemmon were both outstanding.

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  4. You can't not love Mamet's writing. It is just so damn sharp! I agree. It's Lemmon who drives this movie, but it's Baldwin's brief appearance that makes it so memorable. That scene is iconic. It's one I've been known to quote after a few drinks with friends. And every friend I have who works in business or sales admires this movie and its accuracy. Good write up. I want to re-watch this now.

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    1. Thanks. Mamet's work is so good here. I really can't praise it enough. Don't think I'll be quoting it, though. That would bring up some painful memories, lol.

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  5. Oh I almost put this down for this year's Blindspot! I still haven't seen this one but I should get on it pronto!

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    1. I highly recommend it. I really enjoyed this one.

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  6. I always loved movies adapted from a play, 'cause I'm always curious about how the filmmaker transferred the play into movie. Yet, I haven't seen this one, and never quite heard about this. Thanks to you I know this now!

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    1. It certainly maintains that intimate feeling that a play has and the scenery doesn't change much. To be honest, this movie doesn't need all that.

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  7. Arguably the best acting combined I've ever seen in a film. And what a cameo by Baldwin!

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    1. Wow. High praise! Baldwin totally nailed it.

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  8. It's one of the great male casts ever assembled, and al lof them are top of their respective games. That said, I agree with you on Lemmon and Baldwin. How either of them managed to be snubbed by the Academy is a mystery to me. Baldwin is on screen for about 8 minutes, but he casts such a massive shadow over everything else that happens in that film that it becomes so much less without him. I'd give him the nomination and possibly the win.

    That said, there is no one on Earth who can play a smug bastard like Kevin Spacey.

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