Glengarry Glen Ross
(United States, 1992)
It's interesting how the passage of time and the change of one's circumstances can cause one to view a movie differently. Such is the case with me and Glengarry Glen Ross. When the movie was first released in 1992 to a cascade of four-star reviews, I went eagerly to a multiplex to watch it unspool. I departed feeling let down. I found the acting to be sterling but I was less than impressed by the plot. Re-watching the movie 14 years later, I was astonished by its power and perceptiveness. It embodies my cyncicism about Big Business and sales - how the little guy always gets screwed. It's not just "nice guys finish last" but "everyone finishes last except the biggest bastard." Maybe Glengarry Glen Ross requires some age and maturity to fully appreciate. Regardless, what failed to overwhelm James Berardinelli at age 25 blew away James Berardinelli at age 39.
Plot Summary (Spoilers Possible):
There are four salesmen working in a New York City real estate office: hot-shot Ricky Roma (Al Pacino), who's raking in commissions by the fistful; old-timer Shelley Levine (Jack Lemmon), who has lost his touch; tough-talker Dave Moss (Ed Harris), who's looking for a way to screw management; and nervous George Aaronow (Alan Arkin), who's in almost as bad a shape as Shelly. Enter Blake (Alec Baldwin), a suit from uptown who's sent into the trenches to give a Patton-like pep talk. This month's sales contest, he informs them, will have new rules. First prize is a car. Second prize is a set of steak knives. Third prize - you're fired. So two of the four salesmen in the office are about to get pink slips. The guy who runs the office, John Williamson (Kevin Spacey), couldn't be happier. He doesn't like any of them, least of all Levine, who constantly berates him. What follows is a perfect example of how people can turn on each other with their livelihood on the line. I'm reminded of the following line uttered by Sigourney Weaver in Aliens: "I don't know which species is worse. You don't see [the aliens] fucking each other over for a goddamn percentage!"
Is Glengarry Glen Ross really about salesmen, or is it about a bankrupt culture that produces and nurtures them? Certainly, it stands alongside Wall Street as one of the most unflinching views of a mindset that informed a generation of salesmen and stockbrokers during the 1980s and 1990s. Gordon Gecko might have said that "greed is good," but the men in Glengarry Glen Ross lived the mantra. The film focuses on a group of unpleasant characters, each more disreputable than the next, and uses them to provide compelling drama. As in Reservoir Dogs (which reached theaters the same year), itís the complexity of the characters not their lack of virtue that commands our attention.
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