Glengarry Glen Ross at 30: David Mamet’s nonetheless electrical salesmen drama


The title of David Mamet’s Pulitzer prize-winning play, Glengarry Glen Ross, refers to 2 of the true property developments that salesmen within the drama have been pushing on traders: Glengarry Highlands and Glen Ross Farms. The names evoke verdancy and wealth, a valuable swath of finite land – “they’re not making it any extra”, to cite Mark Twain – and the salesmen have the shiny brochures to show it. However it’s a swindle peddled by swindlers who themselves are being swindled. What they’re promoting has no worth they usually don’t have any worth in the event that they’re not promoting. Within the sensible movie adaptation, nonetheless electrical 30 years later, a motivational speaker lays it out for them: “Just one issues counts on this life: get them to signal on the road that’s dotted.”

Glengarry Glen Ross is about many issues – masculinity, morality, capitalism – but it surely’s essentially an “honor amongst thieves” story, following anguished males as they wrestle to hold on to their integrity whereas performing as low-level rip-off artists. Mamet may have turned all of them into antagonists, however he has too eager an appreciation for his or her circumstances and even just a little admiration for his or her craft. Mamet’s 1987 debut function, Home of Video games, was in regards to the artwork of the con, and right here it takes quite a lot of smoke and mirrors to show shoppers into suckers, promoting them on a sinkhole that appears like paradise. Even in a system of never-ending exploitation, the way in which they’re handled – and the way in which they deal with each other – nonetheless issues.

The motivational speaker, performed by Alec Baldwin, was added for the movie model and now appears an indispensable a part of the drama, each as a supply of its most quotable traces (“Put. That. Espresso. Down.”) and the massive shove that sends its 4 salesmen careening downhill. His goal is to name consideration to the month’s gross sales contest, the place first prize is a Cadillac, second prize is a set of steak knives and third prize is the unemployment line. He additionally has possession of results in valuable new shoppers, that are dangled in entrance of them as they limp out on “sits” with warmed-over deadbeats and individuals who similar to to speak to salesmen.

An workplace theft makes suspects of all of them, however earlier than the leads, a number of the contracts and the telephones are boosted, Mamet takes time to sketch out the characters over a wet, fateful night in Chicago. Ricky Roma (Al Pacino) and Shelley “The Machine” Levene (Jack Lemmon) are a examine in contrasts: Ricky holds court docket within the Chinese language restaurant and bar throughout from the workplace, the place he likes to philosophize with shoppers like James Lingk (Jonathan Pryce) earlier than circling round, nearly imperceptibly, to a sale. Shelley prefers the arduous promote, affected with a folksy cadence that’s beginning to slip into bare desperation. In the meantime, the flamable Dave Moss (Ed Harris) and the meek George Aaron (Alan Arkin) drown their sorrows in a bar that resembles Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks, the place Dave pitches the concept of a theft to get the leads and promote them to a competitor.

The pungent rhythms of Mamet’s dialogue, with their clipped sentences and bursts of profanity, give Glengarry Glen Ross its unmistakable verve, but it surely’s outstanding how fastidiously he delineates these characters. They’re all of an analogous species, one with its personal rapacious language and tradition, however on this story of survival of the fittest, the energy and weaknesses of their temperaments inform the story. It’s an crucial that they reside to see one other depressing day on the workplace, so the drama turns into a check of how far they’re keen to go to get on the gross sales board and at what value to their soul. However Mamet respects their esprit de corps, too, constructed on a shared sense of dignity as males.

Director James Foley, recent from the first-rate Jim Thompson adaptation After Darkish, My Candy, doesn’t attempt to “open up” the play an excessive amount of for the display screen, however he does give the motion a stripped-down neo-noir atmosphere that enhances Mamet’s work. And his lengthy takes and widescreen compositions give the actors the area to function like animals of their pure habitat, prowling round and asserting their dominance over weaker members of a pack. As Williamson, the corporate man who runs the workplace, Kevin Spacey often is the uncommon case of off-screen habits enhancing on-screen oiliness, which makes him the favourite goal of everybody else within the room.

Kevin Spacey and Al Pacino in Glengarry Glen Ross. {Photograph}: New Line Cinema/Allstar

It isn’t typically {that a} single movie contains so many top-paragraph-in-the-obituary performances, however the solid of Glengarry Glen Ross appears to attract out probably the most from each other, as in the event that they hold setting and resetting the excessive bar. There are shades of Michael Corleone’s calculating self-possession to Pacino’s Ricky Roma, however a whiff of low cost cologne, too, that implies he can’t take his routine to a bigger stage. Lemmon’s profession as a put-upon everyman sort makes him a perfect Levene, however on prime of the pitiable flop sweat of a salesman who’s misplaced his contact, he provides a sinister edge to the character as he tries to claw his manner out of the nook. Harris and Arkin develop their very own particular syncopation, with Harris’s Dave treating Arkin’s nodding, mumbling George as a sounding board for grievances and conspiracy.

There’s a lovely musicality to Glengarry Glen Ross that’s made it price revisiting for 30 years, regardless of the grim destinies of characters on the unsuitable finish of the capitalist meals chain. With virtuosos like Pacino and Lemmon enjoying the notes, even a 100-minute burning ulcer can seem to be an evening on the symphony.

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