Glengarry Glen Ross

(USA - 1992)

by Vanes Naldi & Mike Lorefice
8/25/05 (Vanes 6/01)

Cast: Jack Lemmon, Al Pacino, Ed Harris, Alan Arkin, Kevin Spacey
Genre: Drama
Director: James Foley
Screenplay: David Mamet from his play
Cinematography: Juan Ruiz Anchia
Composer: James Newton Howard
Runtime: 100 minutes

"A-B-C. A-Always, B-Be, C-Closing. Always be closing, always be closing" - Blake

VN: In a dog eat dog world, what matters are the men, what they do and what they achieve. It doesn't matter HOW they do it. It doesn't matter how many people they stomp on to reach their goals, how many suckers they lure, how many rules they break. It's all a matter of being successful, being MEN, or being losers.

ML: The corporations that create the dog eat dog world care for nothing but money, made in any manner at any human cost. They still need a few dogs to make it for them, and in this case they get to do 99% of the work for 10% of the profit. That's a great return for the workers in today's deunionized world, except 10% of nothing is nothing in any world.

VN: The plot centers on a group of real estate salesmen struggling to close deals. They were kings in the 80s, and some of them even had nicknames (like "The Machine") to portray their success, but the environment has changed, the real estate world, like every other job, has become a big corporate giant, where the motto is "sell, or be fired". The once important relationship with the clients, the long time business you could establish with a client has become passe in the 90s, the most important thing is to sell, sell, and sell. Some of them take it well and are successful, like Ricky Roma, others don't, like the rest of the office.

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ML: Some of the older salesman wax poetic for the days when they sold a good product, a product that pleased the consumer and thus they bought it again and again. This was a product that, in some ways, sold itself. But that was before all the money was spent on marketing research even though any real alternative is never produced because people would actually prefer it, and thus that would make it harder to sell superficially different versions of the same thing for all eternity. Every year the products seem made to last an even shorter period of time, and to please for fewer and fewer seconds, but the return customer isn't important. The corporation always targets the same young age group (the ones whose mind is highly underdeveloped and who have no little history to base decisions on), and by the time you are old enough to realize their product sucks you are old enough that they don't care about you. And by that time they've probably eliminated the good alternatives undercutting them by exploiting workers in Bangladesh, so they might get return business by default. If not, they figure they'll get your return business because you won't have the time it takes to get past their propaganda and unearth the real alternative(s).

VN: One good day the people from Downtown (Mitch & Murray) decide to send someone to stir up things, to wake them up, to finally make them produce sales, to finally close. That man is Blake (Alec Baldwin). In the film-stealer scene, he proceeds, in all of 10 minutes, to completely destroy any resemblance of dignity, human and professional, and talks to the agents like they're slaves, of the corporate world, of the crazy machine of selling. Alec Baldwin's performance is memorable, not only for his believability (something he hasn't displayed too often), but for the impact it gives to the film, in only a few minutes. His monologue totally changes the life of these people. They were already struggling to survive, but now they're in trouble, because they have to close or be fired. Blake adds a little something to the monthly sales contest: the man who closes the most deals gets a Cadillac, but second prize is a set of steak knives and third prize is getting handed your walking papers. This obviously implies the fact only half of the salesman will be employed there next month, and the film subtly details each of the four salesman's reactions.

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ML: Baldwin's speech is pure corporate propaganda, shifting the blame from where it belongs to the chosen villain. Mitch & Murray buy useless leads and can't (probably refuse since they aren't paying by the hour for time wasted) supply enough new ones to keep the salesman from wasting their time on the same dead ends. But they know to distract from the real enemy, and the way to do that is to provide a scapegoat. You'd think that people would get pissed that the situation is growing increasingly unfair, but the wealthy count on the possibility of upward mobility to keep everyone else from bringing them down. Since one will get something valuable, something that gives them status (not wealth mind you, that is something that's almost only attained by inheritance and not riches, that's athletes or entertainers) they are free to increase their exploitation. Mitch & Murray's threat gets their workers so desperate that they can't think straight. The workers are a bunch of whiners blaming Mitch & Murray (though they are so big now that perhaps only the oldest has even met them), so this is the corporations way of putting them in their place, or showing them, like corporations always do in clever ways like this that make them look great and you look terrible, they are expendable.

Baldwin puts the scene over to perfection reveling that his watch is worth more than Moss' car, and we're supposed to believe that's the only thing that's important because the corporations are careful to use all their media and entertainment to set this value that makes them that much richer and allows them to get away with murder without a whimper. The scene was ripped off for the mediocrity known as Boiler Room, and actually it was the one time Ben Affbleck almost resembled an actor (but to show how unimpressive he is some mumbling roider supposedly stole the show), but it's such a pale imitation of the scene written by Mamet. Even though the scene is the ultimate in degradation, its impact on a dramatic and comedic level is largely separate from the humiliation. Unlike the typical setup where everyone is supposed to laugh at the selected "pathetic loser", Mamet's work is cleverly scripted so it's funny as a battle between the two types of salesman; the new selling is the be all and end all and the old treat people decently and maintain their business. And although Baldwin is totally credible, you are allowed to side with Harris (who otherwise is generally dislikable) in believing he's nothing more than a better dressed version of them, an actor who is a master at slinging the bull telling them stories to try to get something out of nothing. Part of the brilliance of the film is we never find out what Baldwin really is. We are allowed to suspect he is greatly exaggerating his position, a master of self-aggrandizement. We never find out if the good leads are really good or if they are more bait, another carrot dangled by the corporation to get their horses to dash that much faster. So the scene sets the entire film into motion, but we get to study its psychological effect on the characters rather than sit through a bunch of manipulative twists until the big mystery is solved.

VN: Shelley Levene (Jack Lemmon) is in his late 50s. Once a great salesmen, he's now struggling to find his identity. For his past success, back in the days he'd be the leading salesman 2/3 of the time, he got nicknamed "The Machine". Now, all he can do is get leads (prospects for sales) that are garbage, overused, not financially adequate to close deals. His family is in disarray, with a daughter in hospital, no mention of any wife and the struggle to pay the bills and make ends meet at the end of the month. His life is all in his work, it's the only way he's gonna get out of the hole. He never admits he's reached the point of no return, he's always trying to be optimistic, asking for new leads, for better leads, for the Glengarry leads (the best prospects, theoretically almost assuring a closed deal). In a great scene, Shelley works his way to sucker in a prospect, making him believe he won a prize. He does everything in his power to close this deal, and now that his job, the last thing that is stable for him, is in trouble, he NEEDS to close this deal, and do it fast. When the client shows no interest in investing, he keeps talking to him; he keeps
telling his subconscious that it's not over. He's to the point he could break down, but he never wants to let it go. He's trying to hold on his last hope.

ML: The salesman are in a business that someone above them changed and thus are forced to adapt or go home. That's the value the corporation always sets because they know people aren't quitters, and are easily manipulated into the corporate suggestions (disguised sales pitches) of what they need to do to fit in and be #1. Though that contradiction should be grossly obvious, the corporation always gets away with promoting bland and boring artificial sameness as something special and exciting natural difference as gross and archaic. Thus, a mindless follower is their most praised individual; they simply present them as the enlightened and the non-followers as the ones that are still in need of salvation. That's one reason salesman today can sell anything, all they have to do is make it seem like you might be left out, that you'll fall from your high perch is you don't buy what they are offering. Need, hell even want, are things of the past, now it's praying on your weaknesses, your frailties.

VN: Ricky Roma (Al Pacino) is the total opposite: he's the most successful agent in the office, which grants him the best leads. He's cocky, confident and understands how to make a good impression on the client. He never shows fear, he shows himself in a way that conveys self-control. He never loses his focus. In the first scene when we get to know him, he lures James Lingk (Jonathan Pryce) into his will to sell land. He doesn't do so talking about the characteristics that make the land worth buying; he doesn't promote the product. What he's doing is seducing his client; he's establishing a connection with him. They're at a bar, talking about life, what really matters. He talks to him about money, and the fact that money alone means nothing, but it's what you do with money that increases its value. Lingk is reluctant at first, but totally gets "trapped" in Roma's net, he feels comforted by Ricky's charm, by his style, by the fact he doesn't look like someone who just wants your money, but wants to help you make a tough decision. He finally closes the deal, an important one, earning $6,000 commission, an amount that will no doubt grant him the big monthly prize. The only thing left to do is pick up the keys to his Cadillac.

ML: Roma uses the new sales pitch of creating the problem then presenting his product as the solution. He degrades you in a manner that you aren't supposed to realize is degradation then leads you the promised land, shows you how to be one of the chosen few (zillion). Pacino's performance is the portrait of the successful salesman, slick and on top of the world because he's on a good streak. In a way it's not surprising he's the most likeable character since he's the only one with little to complain about, but he also represents the old school in that he realizes he's not doing it by himself. The best scene in the movie isn't Baldwin's, but the one where he teams up with Lemmon, who pretends to be a client of major importance, to try to keep one of Pacino's clients from reneging on last night's sale. The scene demonstrates the kind of skilled writing and acting that make the film great because, although we know they are pulling one over on Pryce, it's not the usual scene where you want to throw something at your TV in hopes that it'll hit the stupid character and wake him up. They present openings for each other, and they are really good but not perfect so it seems believable. It's one of those scenes that asks you to keep up with them in their story, gives you the opportunity to improvise with them. It's the kind of scene that makes you forget it's scripted, and instead reminds you of the time you and your buddy were pulling one over on someone (or trying to). It's the kind of scene you'll remember not only the next day but the next year because it doesn't condescend to you by supplying a mark that makes the first grade dunce look like Einstein.

VN: Lingk's wife wants her check back, and winds out she legally has three days to cancel before the sale is final. Roma and Levene masterfully try to seduce Lingk, to try to save the deal. When it actually fails, thanks to Williamson, the great performance by Pryce reveals the bond that had formed between the client and the salesmen. Lingk was both afraid of not doing what his wife told him, but he was ALSO afraid of disappointing Ricky, due to the impact he had on him, to the relationship he created with him.

ML: Lingk is human, in other words weak. He only bought because Pacino convinced him it made him manlier. He would have signed up for some In the Realm of the Senses action if that's what Pacino was selling to increase his masculinity. His wife wasn't impressed, realized he was more of a man when he had valuable money as opposed to property of little worth. Corporations love women's equality, not real equality of course but their version where the women lose all the traditional feminine traits that made them practical and useful to the family because they tend to make them opposition to spending (if they cook McDonald's loses money, if they watch the finances everyone loses money). In their place, they gain all the masculine traits that make them go with the spending flow.

VN: Dave Moss (Ed Harris), feels bad for many things, he's "old school" in his approach to selling land. He wants to establish a connection with the client first, then sell him land. The thing he hates the most about this corporate world is that they run for the big money, but forget the fact that a satisfied customer always comes back. This money hungry machine basically spoils the landscape for "losers" or people who don't close like Dave. What he gets is the reject, the leftovers, because all the big money deals are for the big suits in Downtown, and people like him, who work hard for the future and not the present, are overlooked and treated like dirt.

ML: It ruins it for the people who have to actually deal with the customers. They aren't responsible for the product, but all they get is hate and anger once the customer finally wakes up. They don't mind putting one over on someone now and then, in fact it's a big ego trip because it proves their superiority, but they know they are the ones it'll come back to hurt because Mitch & Murray are secure. If they sell a few less, if they don't get the new suckers or their name is tarnished, they have the money to get into another scam while guys like Moss can only play with the hand they are dealt. That's why Moss longs to be on his own, but he's lost in America because you can't sell your own property if you don't have the money, can't get your own money if you don't have the property.

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VN: Moss's other problem is the way he gets treated by Blake, the way he totally humiliates him and strips him of his machismo. In a memorable scene, Blake compares his life to Dave's, using his watch and his car as examples of his success, totally opposite to Dave's failure. He shows him to survive in this world, you've got to be ruthless, you've got to forget humanity and focus on the end result: "Nice guy, I don't give a shit. Good father, fuck you! Go home and play with your kids" That epitomizes the dog eat dog world in which they live. Succeed or face the consequences. He's totally enraged, but is also planning to pay them back, in a "Live by the sword, die by the sword" way. He thinks about stealing the precious leads, the Glengarry leads, and selling them to the competition to make a buck out of it. In a really hilarious scene, he realizes what the consequences could be if he'd be caught, so he suckers in his partner George to do the "robbery". He realizes he'd be the first in line to be suspected, so tries to swap the case to George, making him believe nobody would suspect of him.

ML: What's great about the world Mamet creates is everyone always has an angle. If it's not a straight con it's a con within a con, so you can't take anything at face value. Everyone in the film both likes and hates everyone else, and they might go with the trends or they might go against them, whatever will put them in a better position in the long or short run, whichever they are concerned with at the moment (usually short). In any salesman world, it's ultimately selfish but favors could be reciprocated.

VN: George Aaronow (Alan Arkin) himself is probably the most clear cut "loser" of the group. He's in the biggest slump of them all, even his colleagues don't respect him. When he realizes that almost everything is lost, that he'd be one of the people who'd be fired, he starts convincing himself that following Dave's idea could help him.

ML: He has the forgotten role of the regular guy you can relate to and feel sorry for (forgotten because the corporations don't make enough money off those that aren't vain and conceited). Arkin has always been the guy you like because you can relate to, but that was changing because no one you could relate to was being cast, and to justify their exclusion you have to change the values so they are disliked. The role is underwritten and Arkin kind of exists to be the obvious fall guy, but he's also kind of a remembrance. By Mitch & Murray condescending toward him, he becomes kind of the good guy again because we can see it's their values rather than him that are defective. The thing is he doesn't much see it, he just kind of coasts along, like the majority of the world.

VN: Another important piece of the puzzle is John Williamson (Kevin Spacey), the office manager who holds the key to the agent's success. He's a selfish, despicable man who only does what his job requires, has no compassion for his fellow workers and tries everything in his power to hold the precious Glengarry leads, and like Blake said, only give them to the closers, because otherwise they' be wasted. In a scene that performs the dual job of explaining Williamson's character, and finally giving the possibility to Roma to vent his frustration on his boss without suffering from it, Roma is trying to patch up things for a deal that could collapse (the Lingk one), but Williamson willingly makes a mistake and the important deal is lost because of him. An enraged Ricky totally berates him, saying he's not ready to work with men. He's supposed to help them, not screw them. He's an accountant, not an agent. He's not like them; he's not a MAN.

ML: Spacey at first appears to be the kind of clueless stooge that seemingly runs every business today. He has no real knowledge of the business or the clientele, but he has an impressive title and that empowers him to ruin it for everyone. To Mamet's credit, he doesn't make the film overly for the salesmen and against the Spacey character because he understands Spacey is just a tool. He is actually just a middleman forced to work with as little as the salesman (except he does get paid while they waste their time) and to maintain order amongst the pathetic lack of actual sales. He thinks he's a big shot because of the fancy title, but really he's worth a lot less than the salesmen and both they and Mitch & Murray know it. The salesman resent him for it, but they have to be careful, to pick their spots, because he has the power to play favorites. I don't think Spacey willingly blows the sale; it's just his inexperience showing and the proof that he's worth much less than the salesman (he's basically little more than a secretary and gopher).

The idea that men are important is nothing more than a coping device for people who don't believe in what they are doing. It gives the salesman something to cling to, some meaning to their life. It's just like the military. Once you realize the war is pointless, that it's not going to benefit you even if you do get out alive, the only thing that matters is you and your mates surviving. But that doesn't make the men important, it just helps the soldiers to maintain their sanity. Spacey isn't in the trenches with them, he's an officer that never sees any combat, and that's why they hate him.

VN: Everyone reacts differently to what happens after the robbery is committed. We really never find out who commits it, and given the way the plot moves forward, it could be any of the 4. It could be the duo of Dave & Alan who created the plan, but it also could be Levene, or even Roma. Who knows? The thing is, eventually, we don't really care, because what's matters is the reaction these people have to the sudden change.

ML: I like what Henry James said about the novel to justify his ambiguous endings, "You just take a part of life, and then leave it."

VN: The Machine finally succeeds, he finally closes a very important, 5-figure deal. He's enthusiastic, he's ready to rock the world, and when he comes back to the office, he's surprised to say the least. His machismo seems to have regenerated, he engages his "pupil" Ricky, showing him how he closed the deal. Eventually, his happiness will be stopped abruptly, by the sheer brutality of truth. He finally thought he could hold on to something, he had finally come out of the hole, but everything falls on him now. The only thing he can think about is his daughter, because he realizes it's the only thing he'd have left at the end of the month.

ML: The ending is meant to show the impact of the corporate degradation, the human toll. It's either bad because Lemmon, robbed of his future with the big sale falling through confesses way too easily. Even below rock bottom, he's too masterful a bullshit artist to cave into Spacey in a second. Spacey isn't even a rookie bullshit artist, and more importantly he has little on Lemmon. It's not believable at all, even in spite of the circumstances because Spacey isn't on his level and there's nothing to gain from Spacey this time (earlier Lemmon would have paid Spacey's price for the Glengarry leads except he couldn't come up with $50). On the other hand, it works as far as bringing light to the kind of behind the scenes manipulation that goes on. We understand that Arkin wasn't special, Harris was shopping his offer around, and thus we can believe that Lemmon really didn't rob the place based on the way he was acting before he found out his big sale was going to be void. I think it shows a certain amount of cleverness, but falls so far short in the face value department that it can, probably will, be missed most of the time.

VN: The end is satisfying because it leaves the question of "whodunit" unanswered, and focuses back on the theme of the film: men and the way their environment forces them to behave. There are scenes where we see a bond between the agents, like Levene trying to help Roma or Ricky himself sharing Shelley's happiness after such a success. He's not even worried about the fact he wouldn't win the Cadillac, he's just happy for him.

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ML: I think Roma is grateful that Shelley played his part so well, but again his motives are more selfish. With the $82,000 sale and his aid to Roma, Shelley has reestablished himself as an important ally, the important ally of the group (and the only other one that will still be there). The great irony is Roma doesn't know that Shelley has confessed, so he's giving him the superstar treatment at the same time everyone else is ready to hang him. Normally what makes Mamet so effective is we know far less than the characters, so we must always guess and play catch up, but used sparingly our knowing more provides a dramatic wallop and puts a smile on our faces.

VN: Other times, everyone tries to screw anyone else. It's a dog eat dog world, and even if they're not willing to do it and/or feel regret in doing so, they've got to swim with the sharks and try to reach the promised land. What this film really portrays is life working our daily jobs. It conveys realistically the success, the failures, the trouble, the environment that we work in. It also has a subtle message, a condemnation of the corporate world, shattering the age-old way of doing business, creating a bond between who demands and who offers. Now it's all about numbers, sales, and money. It's cold and heartless, figures over humans. The project is not to build customers with faith, with good conduct, with honesty. What really matters is making money, no matter what happens. The movie is also intrinsically linked to man's old age will to be better, to combat to improve or protect his position. It's a war of machismo, a clash of egos.

ML: It's an accurate and entertaining look into the lives of real people or in other words more or less what a good non fantasy is supposed to be. It's cleverly written with many layers, well-developed characters, and minimal gimmick and plot interruption.

VN: You're probably asking yourself why I spent so long talking about the characters, the plot and the meaning of the film, the reason why I did it is simply tied to the way the film is shot. This is a stage play, only with cameras and not confined to a theater. The main lead is dialogue, Mamet doesn't develops characters telling us what they do, why they do it, and why they've changed. He lets the characters speak, and we find out everything we need to know in their own words. It is a tremendous adaptation of the Pulitzer prize winning play not only because of the masterful acting, but also because of the way director James Foley totally revolves the film around dialogue, and does everything possible to not limit it, to let word speak louder than any action. The ambience in which the film takes place might seem claustrophobic and limited, but it's tremendously effective because it focuses on their jobs. Their lives ARE their jobs, nothing else seems to matter, or at least that's what we think.

ML: What's really old school is the lack of distractions. It's men & money for the duration. There's no women, no leisure, nothing that doesn't relate to making money in some way. This is the world Mamet knows so well, the con artist is always trying to control, always setting up his angle. That's why the film never gets boring. It doesn't need any embellishment because nothing is inessential.

VN: There have been other stage play adaptations that did embellish the product, most of them in fact felt they need to offer a "friendlier" atmosphere for moviegoers. But time after time they fell flat and felt more like a play because the superfluous stood out, as a needlessly commercial and/or pretentious distraction. This is the closest thing to the real play you're going to get, and the only thing that lacks really is Joe Mantegna, otherwise I don't know how the film could be any better.

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ML: James Foley is far from a master director, and in fact his involvement ranks this very near the top of accidental masterpieces. Just look at when he tried to relive this glory with Confidence. Inferior writing and actors (the Arkin type is replaced by some wanna be of the mumbling roider from Boiler Room, ugh) lead right to the typical irreverent superficial mediocrity. More or less everything good in Glengarry comes from writing and from actually casting tremendous actors that could bring it to life. I mean, you couldn't ask for a better cast. You have two all-time greats in Harris & Pacino, Arkin who is as good as they come playing the regular guy, Spacey in the kind of role that made him great before he sold out, and Lemmon in his finest performance playing on his sad sack comedy roles but for once earning our emotion without cheap gimmicks or sentiment. Mantegna is a master, the master at Mamet's vocal patterns and inflections, but I don't know how he could have done any better. All the performances except the minor role of the cop are brilliant. Harris is at his nastiness, Pacino his slickest but not overacting or parodying himself like in recent times. Harris or Lemmon stand out the most because their performances are more of a surprise. Harris is someone you think of as a nice guy because of what he's like outside and often on the screen, but he's such a foul mouthed bastard here and, though he was in top form in other nasty roles like Alamo Bay and as Charlie he was one hell of a Dick, those inferior films didn't give him nearly as much to work with. More importantly, they didn't allow him to walk the fence between likeable and dislikable. Here Harris can be your favorite or least favorite character, probably depending on how big your bank account is. Lemmon also stands out because he does what he does well in comedy, the sorrow and pitiable routine, but in a manner that strikes a chord and never feels cheap or forced.

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VN: The acting is some of the best I've ever seen in my life. Often times you look at very good actors giving effective performances, but an overall performance like this is hard to top. The characters look so real; the differences between them are emphasized by the portrayal of the leads, by the great casting. Jack Lemmon, in one of his best performances, is one of the most likable characters of the film, if not the only REAL likable character.

ML: What's so effective about the writing as well as the performance is that no one to like or dislike. You don't see the bigwigs, and everyone else is, for better and often worse, struggling to survive. It's easy to dislike all of them, they get their cheap heat and don't endear themselves to anyone, but that's missing the point. There's compassion here and you should understand why they are the way they are, that the system has molded them into these people and that you'd likely be no different if you were in their shoes. The power structure is the only bad guy because they use their power not to better society but to destroy it because that supposedly offers them the most potential to cash in best.

VN: Al Pacino is just mesmerizing: so believable, so fascinating, so charming. The dialogue at the bar, trying to lure the "sucker of the week" Lingk into his web, trying to trap him and sell him what he wants, is simply memorable. He doesn't just appear as a shill, he looks more like a philosopher.

ML: I'd liken him to a magician. His demeanor, his actions, his look, it's all calculated to get the mark to pull the rabbit out of his hat.

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VN: Kevin Spacey is perfect for this role, because of the way he can portray the character's cold and calculated demeanor. He really doesn't care if the agents will be fired, the only thing he needs to care about are the leads. New agents will come, but what's important is his safety. Spacey played many villains or despicable characters, but often those were wonderfully charismatic because of their charm. Here, he strips the character of everything unnecessary and delivers what's needed.

ML: The important thing about all the performances is there are no histrionics. They do swear a lot and shout, but nothing seems forced or over the top. When they are pissed, they have a right to be or at least you can understand why they'd act that way out of jealousy. At the time Spacey showed us what he could do with his face and his eyes, now this breakout performance is a reminder of what he used to do before sleeping through corn from Snore Works.

VN: Ed Harris and Alan Arkin give really strong performances, but what really stands out for me is Pryce's acting. He shows so much range as the real loser of the film, who seem to be guided but what his wife wants, afraid of what might happen if he disappoints her, but also developing a bond with Ricky. His nervousness and change of emotions is perfectly displayed by Jonathan.

ML: True, but they are all losers. The only winner is the boss. Some of the others, Pacino in particular, are just superior at the dignified mask. What the film is doing is showing the various ways the losers react. Baldwin is the dream, what the corporation sells to make the system look perfect and you (and everyone else you know in it since you never really know the Baldwin's and success of anyone you do know, like the guy that went out on his own Harris always talks about, depends on what rumor you believe) seem flawed. They are all forced to react to the carefully controlled situation, the situation that effects if not completely shapes our lives in every form because alternative voices have been eliminated through deregulation and consolidation. Pacino reacts in the best way he can for success, ignoring it. He is the top seller because he passes off the illusion of success the best, the illusion that he is the mythical Baldwin character. But he's still a very fragile, unhappy, overstressed, and unstable individual, as shown by him blowing his stack the first time something out of his control screws him. The others coping devices are more obvious because they aren't defined positively: Harris gets pissed at everyone, Lemmon pities himself, and Arkin acts indifferent.

VN: Obviously we can't forget about Alec Baldwin. I can't say I've ever been a fan or I even appreciated most of his performances, but here he's simply perfect. He plays the bastard in such a great way, and 90% of the material Mamet gives him (this was a character not present in the play, it was added by Mamet to the film to better convey the message: sell or be fired. Dog eat Dog) is memorable.

ML: Alec is the Baldwin that actually can act. He's also the biggest star, so that gives him the fewest opportunities to do so. I used to think he was a bad actor like Adam & Stephen, but now I realize he just appeared that way because he wasted his talent in so many corporate products.

VN: The most impressive thing about the way Mamet writes is that he makes words that generally have no real significance important. He uses them more than once just to "break the rules", but even a simple "fuck you" means something when Mamet does it. Certainly, the film is filled with swearing, but it's nothing really gratuitous. It's all relevant to the roles; it's all part of the egos, of the machismo. The film got an R rating from usual hypocritical MPAA. There isn't really anything I'd consider so outrageous to give such a rating. Yes, there's strong language, but the same can be said for what happens in the streets every day, this film is realistic to the point of perfection, so I don't see why someone has to undermine a film's success by "killing" it just because it uses language. The film grossed about 10 million dollars, which is a total joke, even for 1992, and even if Pacino got nominated at the Academy Awards, this is one of the most overlooked masterpieces of the 90s.

ML: Everything about the Mafia Prohibiting Art in America is backwards. One would think the law might be some rule of thumb to judge the relevant damage portraying a certain action does. You know, like in most other countries, where a swear isn't that big a deal since it does no harm to anyone, lands no one in jail, and is generally a meaningless prop for someone lacking the intelligence to come up with something that would actually damage a person. I mean, come on, even most kids know that if you want to hurt someone you don't curse at them. Instead, you stick the dagger in their heart by revealing something they don't want others to know. On the other hand, things that might land you in jail for life, like killing someone, actually care some weight elsewhere while in America it's the least of all entertainment offenses. Also, it might make sense to judge the context, but again that is only done in the most backwards of ways. Comedies are given more leeway than drama even though comedy rarely has any moral significance and is not concerned with realism while drama can and theoretically is. But the MPAA is consistent there since the more unrealistic the less bad it supposedly is, even though realism theoretically should imply consequences and potentially could repel (though I'm buying this less than I used to) and unrealism could imply it's no big deal. So the ultimate way to have no problems with the MPAA is not to make a film that adds anything to society since they could care less and not to make a film that shows the consequences of things they consider bad because they could care less, but to make Bugs Bunny vs. The Roadrunner. Roadrunner will die 1000 different ways and it'll get a G rating for proving everyone is immortal!

VN: The kind of things that should cause an R rating are never even considered. Urging someone to destroy their health for instance, the Hollywood staple, is perfectly acceptable.

ML: Just look at the Disney films. They are supposed to be family, but all they do use their little artificial whores to sell things. Their beauty reductions are generally of the "safe" variety, but what kind of a society wants to create superficial preschoolers, and when they've exhausted the "safe" beauty reductions by the time they are ready for middle school what do you think they'll be doing now that it's "time to rebel". And it's also why the Arkin's of America (and in fact any serious actors) are no more. They have been cast out (but there's not enough money in the other countries to support the natives, and they are having their own problems because the little money available is going to commercial projects posing as art) or converted because the real purpose is not to entertain but to sell useless products. Again, you create the problem by providing the model of beauty that no one can live up to naturally, then you fill your media with the wonderful ways to attain the look, of course never talking about the risks, forgetting the countless follow up surgeries needed from the fallibility of the original product or as a result of obvious things like blowing something up throws your entire body out of it's natural alignment. And of course ignoring the incredibly high number of people that think it's disgusting because they don't matter, it's only setting the value for the youth that doesn't know any better that's important because they can provide a lifetime of business or worst comes to worst be replaced by the next batch.

VN: Most people in Italy, at least the ones I talk to, think the America performers are repellent and repulsive. Yet with the Italian cinema more or dead, more and more these are the only people they see, the people they "support". Of course, they haven't actually been to the cinema more than a few times in the last ten years, and for the most part they no longer purchase any new movies.

ML: Of course they are the ones they see because the corporations know people don't have or won't take the time to find what suits them. Instead, they'll settle for the one that's only 75% ruined because they'll never see anyone that's natural and between 65% and 100% ruined, how much difference is there anyway? They figure not enough for that many people to spend that much time and money to avoid. Instead they'll be just like Moss, always talking about how things used to be so much better, miserable as hell but stuck with the identical crap that's there.

As far as the R rating here goes, I'm somewhat indifferent. There are so many more egregious cases of anti small film bias that it kind of seems a waste of time to take this one up. If you are ever going to give an R rating for language, this is your chance. I personally don't think language is worthy of an R rating because it's superficial. I agree with Lenny Bruce, we should all say the words over and over and just get over them. Then no one would get pissed, like they shouldn't to begin with. You can't be hurt by language unless you allow yourself to be. And again this isn't language that actually hurts, well it is but that's not the language the MPAA cares about. Baldwin's speech, that's the kind of thing that could earn an R rating if the context had any meaning to the censors because it's humiliation and degradation to the nth degree. That's the harmful language in Glengarry. Harris' fuck you's are just child's play. And even though there's an art to swearing when abused by a great performer like Harris (unlike when abused by an overrated mediocrity such as Julianne Moore) they are excessive. The idea of realism being a justification for language is so pathetically flimsy. It's all stereotypes to garner an audience, especially when it comes to using it in television shows. Cops, in general, swear more than teachers, but don't you know cops that you never hear swear (or at least that don't swear any more than normal)? NYPD Blue was one of the only watchable series on TV (there are currently none), but them saying "ass" made little difference in the grand scheme of things and spawned a lot of vulgar unwatchable dreck. In the end, a TV series has to be well written, which that was (at least for a while), and they were able to market the "realism" well enough that the show got away with making less commercial concessions. It wasn't a bunch of chases and shoot em ups. Hell, they didn't even have to pat the audience on the back letting them know the baddie got several years in prison, the show just ended with their part, the arrest. Sopranos was well written in the beginning and in that case HBO being allowed to get away with more helped because they used the leeway to dramatic advantage more often than not (though not nearly as well as in Oz, even though that show was best in the cleaner first season before the inmates became the stars), but the next to last year was bad and the last was beyond embarrassing. Then they came up with Deadwood, which should be interesting because it has the great Molly Parker and we've had much too long a break from Westerns. However, it seems only written to get a swear in every third word. Poor Ian McShane, he's the star but he doesn't even get to do any acting, all he can do is try to figure out how to maintain some intensity even though you know every third word is going to be his characters crutch, "cocksucker". It's pathetic. While Glengarry is extremely well written overall, it would be more likely to gain from utilizing less swears. That's the tiresome and unoriginal portion, the commercial portion. A clever salesman like Moss who makes his living based on split second decisions ought to have several clever retorts. That's why a film like Patrice Leconte's Ridicule, even though some is definitely lost in the translation, is interesting. It's not as good overall, but is loaded with the kind of verbal sparring entertainment should aspire to. Of course, it won't as long as the anti-intellectual movement continues and everyone can get away with generic retorts, with hiding behind forced vulgarity because "it's realistic".

VN: Another thing I'd like to point out is the smart, non intrusive way everything works to highlight the plot. Even the soundtrack is excellent in this regard: I never really liked James Newton Howard, he's done some good things but most of his work was overbearing and overrated. Here, he effectively supports the film, as I said, not intruding what is the real "beef", the dialogue. The only way to do so is to use music that doesn't stand out and doesn't take attention from the film. The best genre to obtain this is obviously jazz. Howard's soundtrack is wonderfully quiet, it's like the "smoke fog" you find in every poker game. It surrounds them without particularly standing out, without being noticed to the point it undermines your enjoyment of the film. There's a few good songs by Al Jarreau and a great solo by Sax Soprano virtuoso Wayne Shorter, that also add a great feeling of the way of life of these people.

This film will probably never get the attention it deserves, but it's one of the most impressively written, masterfully acted works of the 90s, and contains many, many memorable lines and moments. One of the best films of the 90s.

ML: Glengarry Glen Ross proves that good writing can work in any medium. It once again shows that the other forms of writing are far more advanced than screen, and that the most successful translation is generally not to focus on making it cinematic. By taking the attention away from the director, a weak director like James Foley can make a strong film when surrounded by the right people. That might sound like the Hollywood machine talking, but that doesn't happen with the factory because certain parts are always going to stand out, while others aren't (of course they will be different for everyone, but always the same when discussed by the corporate media). What the factory never supplies that Foley has is calm and subtlety. For this type of film to work, you have to tone things down and not distract from the essential like Robert Bresson or Yasujiro Ozu or present the cinematic poetry of Eric Rohmer that elevates the words so far above the scenery that the scenery isn't capable of taking the dominant role.



* Copyright 2005 - Raging Bull Movie Reviews *