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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 GlenRoss 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 fulfilled.

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 GlenRoss 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 GlenRoss 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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