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Glen Ross

Glengarry Glen Ross
1992 / Color / 2:35 anamorphic 16:9 / 100 min. / Special Edition / Street Date November 19, 2002 / $26.98
Starring Jack Lemmon, Al Pacino, Ed Harris, Alan Arkin, Kevin Spacey, Alec Baldwin, Jonathan Pryce
Cinematography Juan Ruiz Anchía
Production Designer Jane Musky
Art Direction William Barclay
Film Editor Howard E. Smith
Original Music James Newton Howard
Written by David Mamet from his play
Produced by Nava Levin, Morris Ruskin, Jerry Tokofsky, Stanley R. Zupnik
Directed by James Foley

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

Once again Savant takes on a relatively recent movie that's familiar instead of arcane, and seeks to find something fresh to say about it. If you just want to know if the transfer is good, read no more - Artisan's Special Edition is technically flawless. The two-disc set has a number of goodies for fans of David Mamet and his A+ socko cast in what might be retitled, The Death of 4 Salesmen.


Business is tough and getting uglier at a downtown real estate sales boiler room; office manager John Williamson (Kevin Spacey) has brought in 'motivator' Blake (Alec Baldwin) to deliver the grim news that of the four salesmen, only two will be kept on, pending the results of who sells the most in the next couple of days. The salesmen thrive or fail on the 'leads' given them by the company, and Williamson makes sure that the salesmen with the poorest performance get the worst pickings. Blake's insulting, humiliating and despair-inducing harangue has an effect, all right: resigned loser George Aaronow (Alan Arkin) practically gives up at the outset. Hothead Dave Moss (Ed Harris) tries to talk Aaronow into stealing the preferred leads locked in Williamson's office. Top sales kick Ricky Roma (Al Pacino) sees a bonus Cadillac in his future as he locks up a sucker (Jonathan Pryce) he meets in a bar. And near-desperate Shelley Levene, formerly a legend but now on a bad streak, tries to sweet-talk and con Williamson into giving him favored status.

Some movies are so intense that we quickly become unaware of the camera, blocking, the photography, the direction. Glengarry Glen Ross confronts us with a score of confrontational characters thrashing about in a hellish work situation that we can immediately identify with (but I hope never experienced). James Foley's no-nonsense direction shouldn't be set aside, but the obvious star of Glengarry Glen Ross is David Mamet's lean script. The characters in this piece 'sing' - anybody who's held a job can recognize the types and how they interact. Modern audiences reject older forms of movie stylization, but in his best pieces, Mamet's Pulitzer Prize winning brand of overcompensating verbiage cuts through to the truth better than would a more low-key, naturalistic approach.

'Never get a job where you have to sell anything,' was my father's best piece of advice, and he was right, because I'm certainly not suited to the ego-crushing life of evaluating myself by last week's sales charts. The property salesmen in the bullpen use all manner of psychological and confidence scams to sell 'investments' to people who probably shouldn't be buying. No wonder some of the men create fantasy worlds of achievement for themselves, as their livihood requires the spinning of entirely false worlds of cozy success. Jack Lemmon's character uses a ploy that makes it seem as if he's a millionaire just trying to help his prospects out with some priceless inside information, that of course, will evaporate unless the signatures get onto the contracts. Ace property pusher Al Pacino, given half an hour at a bar, can cozy a complete stranger into spending every extra cent he owns.

Selling is pressure, and companies that manage salesmen know how to use it against them in the most cruel ways. The downtrodden staff is insulted, belittled and patronized by Alec Baldwin's 'motivator', who flaunts his conspicuous success (earned by their work) before them. It's easy to enlarge the scope of the play and take it as a metaphor for larger power systems under which men toil, but there's no need - the desperate need to make a living and the powerlessness of being in a horrible job is an almost universal experience. If you don't feel it watching Glengarry Glen Ross, you must be a member of the ruling class.

The system is perpetuated mainly because the frustrated salesmen, far from being perfect, short-circuit themselves in petty crimes instead of seeking better jobs. The challenge of the bosses creates an arena that dares the individual saleman to either be a man and achieve, or crawl away in insignificance. Hence the constant chest-beating by the emasculated salesmen. The Alan Arkin character is obviously a good man and an uncomplicated soul, yet he's driven to a frenzy of outrage. The Ed Harris character broods and scoffs, deflecting the sexually-slanted insults with sullen protest. The bosses win more often than lose, because there's always some dope who'll turn to easily-uncovered cheating when he can't buck the odds.

At low ebb among the sales staff, money and ego-wise is Jack Lemmon's Shelley Levene. He's the first to try a short cut, through the ice cold, insufferable office manager played by Kevin Spacey, offering kickbacks and anything else he can think of to even his poor chances of keeping his job. Even the top dog of the hour, Pacino, can see his lead evaporate, should some client's paperwork be lost, or (God forbid), a signed sale invokes the 3-day escape clause.

Foley uses few tricks except keeping the aggravated personalities at a confrontational boil. Whether it's Mamet's doing or superior acting, the 6 principals all stay clearly differentiated, even though Mamet's familiar cadenced, short dialogue is very much in evidence. There are fewer settings than Detour, but the picture never lets us feel enclosed. Trapped and abused maybe, but not by the sets. Glengarry Glen Ross is definitely not recommended for anyone in danger of losing their job, or anyone unemployed and nursing a grudge against a previous employer ... it's a real Pre-Postal picture. I was impressed with the top-class quality of the play, and the variegated performances. I'm not a fan of most of Jack Lemmon's serious-heavy roles, such as Save the Tiger, but here he's completely under control.

Artisan's DVD of Glengarry Glen Ross comes in a 2 disc set. Disc one has a sterling anamorphic widescreen transfer with a commentary by James Foley, and just one extra, a memoriam to Jack Lemmon. It's a good idea, but so many of the stories told by the actors have a reflexive quality about them, the overall sentiment is dulled - the anecdotes too often serve to compliment the teller as much as Lemmon.

Disc two has a pan-scan copy of the film, and the remainder of the goodies. They're very good. A docu called Always be Closing rounds up some real salesmen and a couple of the actors to give a better picture of the profession, which in general isn't as horrible as the film makes out. Nothing could be. The new interviews are audio commentary bits with Arkin, Baldwin, cinematographer Anchía and production designer Jane Musky, which are insightful and interesting, particularly Alec Baldwin's tale of playing the biggest S.O.B. in movies. Another short is an older B&W tribute to an Ohio furniture salesman, where he gives his pep talk on good salesmanship and the right attitude. So the disc compensates fully for the film's low opinion of the sales profession.

The cover illustration is somewhat ungallant. Six actors' names are above the title, but Alan Arkin is excluded from the cluster of faces.

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, Glengarry Glen Ross rates:
Movie: Excellent
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: plenty, see above
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: November 28, 2002

DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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