Monday, August 12, 2013

MOVIE OF THE WEEK: Glengarry Glen Ross

My favourite movie of the week is 1992's "Glengarry Glen Ross", an adaptation of the play by esteemed playwright David Mamet. The play won Pulitzer and Tony awards and I can easily understand why. This film version is a perfect synthesis of great casting and writing brilliance.
The film tells the story of a group of real estate salesmen who are forced to compete under threat of being fired. That threat comes from the sensational Alec Baldwin, whose performance is so memorable that you'd forget that it's basically a cameo. His early speech spurs on the various salesmen, making them desperate to get the good leads (contact information for willing buyers).
These salesmen are played by a superb starry cast - Al Pacino, Jack Lemmon, Alan Arkin and Ed Harris. With its theatrical origins, one would understandably expect a long string of showy chest-beasting. That's surprisingly not the case here, with each cast member delivering effortless, subtle performances. If this was the first film I ever watched, I would think that acting was easy. Such is the naturalistic skill of these talented men. Truly, they could fill an Oscar category all on their own (especially if you include Baldwin). Of all these deserving performances however, Pacino was the only person to get the nod. If I hadn't watched the film, I would have just assumed that Pacino's performance towered over everyone else. While he does give a typically entertaining performance filled with his trademark impassioned monologues and ferocious verbal attacks, it's nothing revelatory. Hence, I would have preferred some recognition for the real MVP - Jack Lemmon.
Among a cast of younger actors, Lemmon is remarkable for the voracious energy that he brings to the role. Not only does he match Pacino's showmanship, he also gives so many shades to his character. Even as the characterizations of the various salesmen don't seem too distinct, he manages to make his role uniquely his own. It easily ranks up there with his best work from decades prior.
While the acting and dialogue are clearly the highlights of this film, it would be remiss of me not to acknowledge the general fine filmmaking on display. Given its talky nature and it's almost claustrophobic setting, it's given a hard task to keep the audience engaged. This film thus manages to overcome these obstacles with excellent camerawork and editing. There's a smooth flow to the proceedings due to a dynamic but unobtrusive visual sense, coupled with smart editing. It proves that the technical expertise expected of big-budget spectacles is just as important for more low-key productions. Everything comes together nicely to make this movie such a success.
If I had to give one criticism of the film, I would say that I would have liked it to have expanded its scope a bit more. It doesn't stray too far from it's stagebound roots and some may therefore dismiss the film as being "slight". Don't let it's modest ambitions fool you though. "Glengarry Glen Ross" is vital 90s cinema.

This film is part of my List of Shame.


  1. LOL, I hated this movie, outside of Lemmon, who was terrific.

  2. I'm never actually seen this film - just the Baldwin part. :) I need to fix that, though! Great review.

  3. Love this movie. One of my favorite screenplays of all time. Glad you pointed out Foley's contribution to the film as a whole. Mamet and the actors usually get all the play, but Foley definitely gave the film an overall claustrophobic feeling. Good call.

    1. Foley did a great job, most def! Thanks for the comment. :)

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