Glengarry Glen Ross

Director: James Foley
Screenplay: David Mamet (based on his play)
Stars: Al Pacino (Ricky Roma), Jack Lemmon (Shelley Levene), Alec Baldwin (Blake), Alan Arkin (George Aaronow), Ed Harris (Dave Moss), Kevin Spacey (John Williamson), Jonathan Pryce (James Lingk)
MPAA Rating: R
Year of Release: 1992
Country: U.S.
Glengarry Glen Ross Blu-ray
Glengarry Glen Ross

James Foley’s caustic, driving cinematic version of David Mamet’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 1983 play Glengarry Glen Ross is a hard, cynical tale of real estate agents fallen on hard times. It presents its characters as both victims and victimizers, deceivers and deceived, callous and sad. Even as they lie, con, cheat, and connive people, these salesmen are themselves being targeted by Mitch & Murray, the corporation for which they work, which has decided that only the top two salesmen in the office will have jobs at the end of the month. This is made all the harder because the salesmen have to keep pursuing the same old, tired leads—people who have expressed interest somewhere at some time in buying real estate and have already been pitched multiple times—and can’t get their hands on the new, coveted Glengarry leads until they have closed a deal. But, as they keep pointing out, they can’t close a deal without decent leads. It’s a no-win situation, a catch-22.

The film is divided into two acts. The first act deals with the salesmen learning of their impending fate and doing everything in their power to sell to the deadbeat leads they have been given. The second act follows what happens the next morning after someone has broken into the office and stolen the contracts, the phones, and, most importantly, the Glengarry leads. Everyone is a suspect immediately, and the man who seems to bear the most suspicion has an alibi.

In an unforgettable scene early in the film, a corporate man named Blake (played with pompous intensity by an unusually effective Alec Baldwin) comes down to the small, crowded sales office for a little “pep talk” with the salesmen. In truth, it is more like hazing. According to Blake, the top salesman wins a Cadillac, runner-up wins a set of steak knives, and everyone else is fired. Baldwin delivers Mamet’s expletive-laden prose with brute severity. Unlike the struggling salesmen around him, he doesn’t have to sweet talk and put up a front—he lets his vicious intentions be known right off the bat. “You can’t sell shit, you are shit, hit the bricks pal, ’cause you are going out!” he barks.

This turns out to be especially tough news for Shelley “The Machine” Levene (Jack Lemmon), who was once top of the heap, but hasn’t closed a deal in months and is saddled with a daughter in the hospital and a dim future. He is so desperate that he is willing bribe the uptight office manager (Kevin Spacey) for some of the good leads, but it is all to no avail. Like that other great fictional salesman, Arthur Miller’s Willie Loman, Shelley is doomed.

Another salesman, Dave Moss (Ed Harris), is thoroughly insulted by the whole idea, and he lets an impressionable fellow salesman (Alan Arkin) know that he plans to steal the coveted Glengarry leads and sell them to the competition. The conversation between these two men, where ideas are shared but never really put out in the open, is a concentrated work of verbal genius (“We're just talking about this, right? We're not really talking about it.”)

The only salesman who doesn’t seem worried is Ricky Roma (Al Pacino). Roma doesn’t even make the meeting with Blake because he is currently at the top of the sales board and he is too busy sweet-talking a naïve prospective buyer (Jonathan Pryce) in a bar. Roma represents everything that is good and bad about salesman: He is easy-going, receptive, and social, but all that is just a façade to get in close so he can make a deal. In one masterfully written scene, Pryce comes back the next morning and tries to undo the deal, and Pacino continually spins the conversation, going off on tangents, telling lies, confusing the facts—basically anything to keep the deal from going bad.

Director James Foley (At Close Range, The Chamber) stays back for the most part and lets his talented ensemble case do their thing. Pacino was nominated for both a Golden Globe and an Academy Award for his role, but the real stand-out is Lemmon. He makes the aging Shelley Levene into a character who is both despicable and terribly endearing at the same time. In some scenes, you can’t believe his loud-mouthed arrogance, and, in other scenes, his defeat is so palpable that it hurts to look at him. Lemmon’s best scene occurs in the house of a prospective buyer who is obviously uninterested, but Lemmon continues pushing in every way possible. He knows that he cannot make the sale, but he continues trying because he has no choice. It is a pathetic, heartbreaking moment.

Mamet is known for his commanding use of prose, and it has never been so evident as it is here. His harsh., profanity-laced dialogue reverberates and intensifies in the film’s claustrophobic atmosphere. Everything feels cramped despite the use of the ’Scope aspect ratio, whether that be in the paper-strewn office or in the pouring rain outside beneath the railroad tracks (the play was explicitly set, like many of Mamet’s works, in Chicago, but the film version keeps the urban location vague, which gives it a more universal sensibility). There is, literally and figuratively, no escape for these characters. And that is where the film gets its power: Glengarry Glen Ross moves us because there is always the sense of impending doom. These broken men are fighting against an impenetrable wall, which causes their frustrations to come out in the worst ways; it a particularly brutal depiction of toxic masculinity before that was a term. Mamet knows these men would take advantage of anyone they could, but he also understands that they are just trying to survive in a hard world. Maybe some other time or in some other place, they could have been better men, and that is their tragedy.

Glengarry Glen Ross Blu-ray

Aspect Ratio2.35:1
Audio
  • English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround
  • English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 surround
  • SubtitlesEnglish
    Supplements
  • Audio commentary by director James Foley
  • Audio commentary by actor Jack Lemmon
  • “A Conversation With Director James Foley” featurette
  • “God Bless Ricky Roma” video interview with actor Joe Mantegna
  • “A.B.C. (Always Be Closing)” documentary
  • “Magic Time: A Tribute to Jack Lemmon” featurette
  • DistributorShout! Factory
    Release DateJune 2, 2020

    COMMENTS
    The impressive image on Shout! Factory’s new Blu-ray of Glengarry Glen Ross was made in 4K from the original 35mm camera negative (it should be noted that the film was shot in Super 35mm, which allows for a variable aspect ratio, although the 2.35:1 aspect ratio presented here reflects the theatrical presentation). Cinematographer Juan Ruiz Anchía establishes a very particular color scheme in the film’s opening moments, depicting the salesmen in shades of gray and brown offset with colored lights against brightly colored backgrounds. The film’s color palette is dominated by primary hues—reds, blues, greens—all of which are beautifully saturated without any bleeding or noticeable chroma noise. The image is well-detailed, with good black levels and nice shadow detail. This disc includes both a 5.1-channel soundtrack and the original 2.0-channel soundtrack, both in DTS-HD Master Audio. While Glengarry Glen Ross is primarily a dialogue-driven film, ambient noise is incredibly important to the film’s mood, particularly the intermittent rumbling of the train overhead and the constant downpour of rain that dominates the film’s first act. The soundtrack is well mixed, with a good balance between the dialogue in the front soundstage and the environmental sounds in the surround speakers. James Newton Howard’s jazzy musical score also sounds rich and full.

    The disc includes two commentary tracks, both of which have appeared on previous home video releases. The commentary by director James Foley is not the one that appeared on Pioneer’s special edition laser disc, but rather the one that was recorded for Artisan’s 10-Year Anniversary DVD release in 2002. Foley only speaks during certain scenes in the film, and even then his comments are not screen-specific. All in all, he talks for less than half an hour, which is only a third of the film’s running length. The commentary by Jack Lemmon, however, is the long sought-after track that originally appeared on the Pioneer laser disc. Why Shout! was able to get the rights to this track but not Foley’s is a mystery.

    Also included are two featurettes that originally appeared on the 2002 DVD. “A.B.C. (Always Be Closing,” a somewhat odd 26-minute featurette. Although it claims to be “an exploration of the facts and fictions” of Glengarry Glen Ross, it is not exactly that. It begins as an examination of what it means to be a salesman, composed entirely of brief interview vignettes with real-life salespeople. Intertwined throughout are discussions of other artistic representations of salespeople, including Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman and Barry Levinson’s film Tin Men (Levinson appears in the featurette, as does legendary documentary filmmaker Albert Maysles, who codirected an excellent 1965 documentary called Salesman about door-to-door Bible peddlers). About halfway through, it begins to focus specifically on Glengarry Glen Ross, moving to interviews with Alan Arkin, Alec Baldwin, and James Foley. This is certainly an interesting featurette, although it never really coheres. “Magic Time: A Tribute to Jack Lemmon” is a half-hour nostalgic look back at the late great Jack Lemmon as both an actor and a human being. A good, eclectic group of people was brought together for new video interviews about their experiences with Lemmon, including his son Chris Lemmon, actor Peter Gallagher (with whom he worked on Long Day’s Journey Into Night), director John Avildsen (who directed him in Save the Tiger), his manager David Seltzer, Glengarry Glen Ross director James Foley, and Inside the Actor’s Studio host James Lipton (the featurette ends with a clip of Lemmon on that show in 1998).

    There are also two new featurettes: “A Conversation With Director James Foley” is an extensive 37-minute interview with the director, who discusses how the film came together (largely the work of Al Pacino) and his working with such a strong cast, while “God Bless Ricky Roma” is a 24-minute video interview with actor Joe Mantegna, who originated the role of Ricky Roma on Broadway and won a Tony award for it. He talks about his long-time working relationship with David Mamet, his early years doing Chicago theater, and how he learned that Al Pacino was going to play Ricky Roman in the film version (it was okay, though, because Mamet guaranteed him roles in House of Games and Things Change as compensation).

    Copyright © 2021 James Kendrick

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    All images copyright © Shout! Factory

    Overall Rating: (3.5)




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