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Glengarry Glen Ross

August 31, 2013

Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)
Director: James Foley
Actors: Jack Lemmon, Al Pacino, Kevin Spacey

Glengarry Glen Ross

Synopsis: The tensions in an out-of-town real estate office go into overdrive when the corporate manager (Alec Baldwin) from “Downtown” issues an ultimatum that the two worst performers in the team will be fired by the end of the month.

Review: This riotous satire of downtrodden white-collar salesmanship – a kind of Death of a Salesman: Part 2 – is a theatrical tour de force, and a real showcase for some of the best male actors that Hollywood had to offer in the early ’90s. David Mamet’s portrait of the pressure-cooker atmosphere in a dowdy, seedy sales office in the backwaters of Chicago offers ample opportunity for the actors to let rip – and he’s rewarded by a uniformly brilliant set of pitch-perfect performances, clearly some of the best work that the likes of Al Pacino, Ed Harris, Kevin Spacey, Alec Baldwin, and even the great Jack Lemmon have ever done.

Yes, the material may be inherently stagey, but the fact that its premise is short, simple and crackles with a tangible energy rewards the idea of transferring the play to the big screen. Director James Foley tries, wherever possible, to make the material break out of its theatrical origins, most notably in the subtly clever camera movement that gradually withdraws from Lemmon when he’s boasting about his latest sale – heightening the pathos and sense of false pride that Lemmon’s ageing, desperate salesman projects. And talking of Jack Lemmon – though it seems unfair to focus on one particular performance when it’s all about the ensemble – his portrayal of Sheldene “The Machine” Levene is an absolute acting masterclass. He gets the character’s persona so right: weary and brow-beaten, but amping up from time-to-time with moments of pent-up rage, and his sales voice is such a clever projection of a man who has been tiredly reprising the same forlorn pitch his whole life.

Glengarry Glen Ross is also one of those rare works that elevates profanity and the swear word to an artform. Each character gets their own ‘venting’ moment, usually at the expense of Kevin Spacey’s hapless office manager, and perhaps Al Pacino’s use of the ‘c’ word – and venomous disgust at his boss’s faux pas in sabotaging one of his sales – is a genius exhibition of sheer and unadulterated contempt. (August 2013)

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