Summer Moviethon 2016: Glengarry Glen Ross

June 22: #11, Glengarry Glen Ross

Coffee's for closers only.

I had never seen Glengarry Glen Ross until yesterday, but I'd seen part of it. You know the scene - the one where Alec Baldwin visits a small group of salesmen and reams them up one side and down the other. After that, I was always curious to see the rest of the film.

I was surprised to find that the scene in question happens very early into the film. By the time Baldwin's Blake has appeared, we've barely been introduced to the film's three hapless salesmen, played by a scheming Ed Harris, a desperate Jack Lemmon, and a gutless Alan Arkin. Before and afterward, though, the film settles into an alternating pattern of "Who's on First?" style dialogue and whining over the low quality of the leads.

Ah, the leads. The leads! Anyone who has worked even a day in sales knows about "the leads." In this respect, Glengarry Glen Ross is terrifically accurate. The rather pathetic salesmen in the film laud their own magnificence when they miraculously make a sale and endlessly bemoan the terrible leads when they don't. It's a mentality that hit home with me as instantly reminiscent of a former friend's grandpa who was (probably still is, I don't know) addicted to gambling.

When he had a good night, Gambling Grandpa would come back to the house and regale us in triumphant tales of skill and determination. When he lost, which was most of the time, he bitched about bad beats and terrible luck. The sales trio in this film seems just as insufferable and pathetic.

They're supposed to be, of course. That's why Blake showed up to belittle them in the first place. That's also why the star salesman, played by Al Pacino, was absent for the lecture. It would have been out of character for him to sit through it, and writer David Mamet knew it.

What I didn't know is that Blake doesn't even exist in the play the film is not just based on. Knowing that now, it makes a lot of sense. That part of the film is so different from what precedes and follows it that it sticks out like a sore thumb. In my case, it also made a promise that the rest of the film wasn't ready to fulfill.

What I got instead was an hour and a half of salesmen whining and bullshitting with one another, kind of like the equivalent of being stuck in a conversation with a pathological liar at the bar. At times, I was tempted to stop listening altogether because the characters were so full of shit. Still, hard to hold that against the film, since that's basically the whole point.

In a lot of cases, the dialogue simply doesn't work for me, and by looking around online, I know I'm in the minority. Maybe you'd like an exchange like this between Ed Harris' Dave Moss and Alan Arkin's George Aaronow, delivered in rapid-fire mode:

Aaronow: Yes. I mean are you actually talking about this, or are we just...
Moss: No, we're just.
Aaronow: We're just "talking" about it.
Moss: We're just speaking about it. (Pause.) As an idea.
Aaronow: As an idea.
Moss: Yes.
Aaronow: We're not actually talking about it.  
Moss: No.
Aaronow: Talking about it as a.
Moss: No.
Aaronow: As a robbery.
Moss: As a "robbery"?! No.
Aaronow: Well. Well.
Moss: Hey. (Pause.)
Aaronow: So all this, um, you didn't, actually, you didn't actually go talk to Graff.
Moss: Not actually, no. (Pause.)
Aaronow: You didn't?
Moss: No. Not actually.
Aaronow: Did you?
Moss: What did I say?
Aaronow: What did you say?
Moss: Yes. (Pause.) I said, "Not actually." The fuck you care, George? We're just talking.

Me? I didn't dig it. It felt self-conscious, like some of Quentin Tarantino's dialogue, where I almost expect Mamet to appear in the background of the scene, winking. "Isn't this witty? I mean, isn't it just great?" It felt like dialogue from an abandoned episode of Seinfeld.

"WHAT is WITH these leaaaads?"

There are a few scenes where Jack Lemmon absolutely nails his role as a shitty salesman who is still using the outdated carny tactics that worked in the 70s, before salesmen adopted cocky alpha-male personas in the 90s and sales reps started acting like advisors a decade or so ago. Pacino is great as well, even if it's hard to watch anything he does and not see shades of his other roles, such as Frank in Scent of a Woman, which was released the same year that this film was.

I can see how Glengarry Glen Ross worked well on stage. I can see how director James Foley tried to translate that to the screen, and at times, his artful directing and economic use of the small office space works effectively. I just don't think it made for a very compelling film, despite good acting performances all around. It's not a bad movie, and it's one that you may very well enjoy, but it wasn't for me.

Grade: C-

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