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Glengarry GlenRoss

Artisan // R // November 19, 2002
List Price: $26.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Holly E. Ordway | posted November 21, 2002 | E-mail the Author
This month at Premiere
Properties, first prize for top real estate sales is a Cadillac; second prize
is a set of steak knives; third prize is... you're fired. It's an ultimatum
guaranteed to make one's blood either boil or run cold, and certainly it's guaranteed
to put the four salesmen at the office at each others' throats. For 100 minutes
Glengarry GlenRoss lets us see these men stew in their own frustration
and impotence as they wrestle with the perceived injustice of the office
management their jealousy of the one salesman on a hot streak, and their own
inability to "close the deal."

Glengarry GlenRoss
boasts a veritable Milky Way of stars in its cast: Jack Lemmon, Al Pacino, Ed
Harris, and Alan Arkin star as the four salesmen, Kevin Spacey as the office
manager, Jonathan Pryce as a potential client drawn into the situation, and
Alec Baldwin in a short but memorable segment as the management executive
brought in to hammer the message through. And unlike some star-ensembles, all
these actors are clearly being used in roles that truly suit them.

Jack Lemmon in particular is
amazing as Shelley Levene, the elderly salesman whose nickname "the Machine"
has become a bitter reminder of his has-been status rather than a source of
pride. At one moment the subtle details of posture and gesture tell us that his
character is at the end of his rope, defeated, worn down to a nub; then like
flicking on a light switch, he calls up the "salesman" personality. In contrast
to his earlier demeanor, the falseness of the breezy, energetic salesman
persona is almost chilling; it's clear that his soul has been drained dry over
the years, and without the sales patter to animate him, he's little more than
an empty shell.

One interesting aspect of
writer David Mamet's dialogue in this film is that it's extremely compelling,
while not quite naturalistic; in fact, it may be that it's interesting
precisely because it doesn't sound natural. In Glengarry GlenRoss the
main characters talk to each other, and that's really all that happens, yet
Mamet manages to transform the conversation of these run-down salesmen into
something that is dynamic and vivid.

Yet despite the brilliant
acting and stylish appearance of the film, something doesn't quite click for me
with Glengarry GlenRoss. One issue that I have with Glengarry
revolves around a question of plot, or lack thereof. There's one
incident in the film, which I won't name, that has a certain significance; but
it happens very late in the film and is resolved within only a few minutes of
running time. Were it not for this portion of the plot, Glengarry GlenRoss
would be entirely a slice of life, examining the lives and personalities of a
group of characters in a particular situation. However, this "twist" sets up
the expectation that the film will have a plot over and above the "slice of
life" that we've been getting... and that's an expectation that is not

Even apart from plot, there's
something missing thematically as well from this film. Director James Foley has
wrought a film that's extremely polished, so much so that it almost deflects
attention away from any issues that it might or might not raise. There's
nothing here that challenges the viewer intellectually; though we are to a
certain degree presented with a situation to make an ethical judgment on,
there's nothing in the film that requires the viewer's sustained and critical
attention. Consider Mamet's later film The Spanish Prisoner, where we
are constantly required to sift truth from lies and distinguish motivations and
monitor shifting loyalties; this film challenges the viewer to take an equal
part in the story's events. Less demanding of its viewers, Glengarry
is a brilliant shell: sophisticated and polished, but hollow
inside. In the end, Glengarry GlenRoss is a showcase for an ensemble of
extraordinary actors who make the film worth viewing on the strength of their
performances, above and beyond any other elements of the film.


Glengarry GlenRoss boasts
a superb transfer; the anamorphically-enhanced 2.35:1 image is almost
impeccable in its image quality. Colors are rich, warm, and deep; contrast is
beautifully handled, with fine detail and shading apparent in a wide range of
light levels, from the glaring light of office overheads to the dim illumination
of streetlights in the rain. The one slight flaw that I noticed is the presence
of some edge enhancement. However, the extensive use of close-up shots in Glengarry
makes this much less problematic than in films that rely on
longer-distance shots where the edge enhancement is more noticeable. Visually,
the film is a treat, and certainly those who already enjoy the film will be
delighted with the treatment that Artisan has given it on this disc.


Viewers have the choice of DTS,
Dolby 5.1, and Dolby 2.0 soundtracks for the film, and I have to say that the
DTS soundtrack on Glengarry GlenRoss is quite a treat. As a
dialogue-based film, Glengarry GlenRoss isn't a movie whose soundtrack
makes you think "Wow! That's a great use of DTS!", but nonetheless, the DTS
soundtrack creates an added layer of richness and depth to the sound that's
noticeable in its absence when compared to the 5.1 track. The dialogue is
always clear, rich, and natural-sounding, and ambient noise is used extremely
well to create a distinct sense of place, with the rain falling outside, cars
passing by on the street, and the occasional thunder of a train all adding to
the immersive audio experience.


The "10 Year Anniversary
Special Edition" DVD of Glengarry GlenRoss is a two-disc set, nicely
packaged in a single keepcase with two plastic disc-holders inside. Disc one
contains the widescreen version of the film, along with a full-length audio
commentary track from director James Foley. A half-hour tribute to Jack Lemmon offers interview footage
from a variety of family and co-workers who relate their stories about working
with Lemmon.

Disc two contains a
pan-and-scan version of the film along with the remainder of the special
features. We get a thirty-minute documentary, "ABC: Always Be Closing," on the
intersection of fictional and real-life salesmen; it's not specifically geared
to Glengarry GlenRoss, though of course the material is relevant to the
film's subject.

Of most interest on the second
disc is a section that offers a total of twenty minutes of selected audio
commentaries on particular scenes from the film, from cinematographer Juan Ruiz
Anchía, actors Alec Baldwin and Alan Arkin, and production designer Jane Musky.

There's also an odd ten-minute
piece of archival footage on "J. Roy: New and Used Furniture" and clips from
The Charlie Rose Show with Jack Lemmon, and Inside the Actor's Studio with
Kevin Spacey. Filling out the disc are cast and crew biographies and text
production notes.

Final thoughts

Glengarry GlenRoss was
interesting to watch, and kept me completely engaged throughout the film, but
in retrospect I find it slightly unsatisfying, as if it promised more than it
could deliver. Given the outstanding acting and general polish of the film,
it's without a doubt worth checking out for those who haven't seen it, and the
beautiful video and audio treatment from Artisan makes the DVD a must-buy for
those who already know they enjoy the film.

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