Monarchs of the Glens
For this gathering of some of modern cinema’s best leads, it’s all about the leads.
Those leads being the clientele, to cold call and chase down in order to clinch the signature on the dotted line in James Foley’s screen adaptation of David Mamet’s weighty and talky play, were greed and desperation combine to tell a bruising story of hard working real estate salesman.
Famous for its gathering of acting kings and a whirlwind, written in (it wasn’t in the play) cameo from Alec Baldwin as the ball busting guy from head office, GlenGarry GlenRoss is a study of masculinity, the fragility of ego and the unsavoury reality of 80’s business.
What Baldwin’s early scathing entry does, quite masterfully, is entice sympathy for a seemingly unfairly treated bunch of employees when their very livelihoods are threatened so unceremoniously.
Coming from downtown at the hand of their hard and out of touch paymasters it’s the most embarrassing of dressing downs, acting like a hammer to the eggshell of their dishonoured manhood.
Much of Mamet’s relentless, powerful dialogue is a slap to the face of machismo and it wears its brass balls out for all to see. It’s a vitriolic language all its own that upsurges every time to a cutting verbal crescendo from the world of work Mamet once inhabited.
Lemmon, Pacino and Co.’s put downs are caustic and are delivered with verve from a cast truly on point, and in the absence of office fisticuffs it’s a tense endeavour of manning up, taking a verbal beating and retorting with interest.
It’s brutal in peeling away the veneer of masculinity as male power wains from each verbal salvo with the supreme acting collective given stage to deliver passage after passage of scorching scripture.
None more so than Jack Lemmon’s ageing master of spiel Shelley, giving and taking condemnation equally; on a bad streak of poor sales, blaming bad leads handed down by office manager Kevin Spacey, who acts as both predator and prey for Lemmon’s perceived elderly incompetence and boastful achievements.
Shelley’s initial sales patter sounds like honey but as desperation sets in, charm turns to weaseling as he distastefully infiltrates client’s homes and minds. His despairing turn away from loveable veteran is an uncomfortable watch with disdain and sympathy procured equally from a sublime performance.
Al Pacino gets plenty to bellow out too, in only the way Pacino can as the smooth man of the hour Ricky Roma, top dog in the office of flatterers and befriender of Jonathon Pryce’s dis-empowered client, with the henpecked husband’s fragile masculinity virtually eroded away presenting an opportunity for Roma to deceitfully close the deal.
With Pacino absent during Baldwin’s speech the opportunity for further fireworks is spurned with Roma likely to be the only guy with the brains and the balls big enough to man up. That would have been dynamite.
Further support is given brilliantly by Ed Harris and Alan Arkin as fellow struggling executives, whose collaborating gives rise to a central plot turn to take power back and become their own men again when failure has gleamed confidence away; but a lack of competence too perhaps, with inaction and self-pity when blaming the cards (being the shitty leads) they have been dealt, coming full circle to perhaps see that Baldwin’s pitiless ball breaking walk on may have a slim point, no matter how brutally made.
Dynamic visuals and superb editing keep a pace with Mamet’s freshly fierce lingo and there’s a bygone time feel to Foley’s direction with primary coloured light conjuring modern neon-noir memories complimented by a classy jazz score. The shabby office battlefield feels like a crucible of claustrophobia when the limited outer world extends across the street to phone booths, a Chinese eatery and barely beyond, with the narrow office forum evoking classic memories of the similar pressure cooker debate of 12 Angry Men.
For all that is the pleasure and appreciation of watching high calibre leads deliver golden altercation, Glengarry Glen Ross’ brilliance is its seductive study of a plastic world of men and false machismo were confidence is tentatively gained by superficial success; were lies and deceit betray honour, and tentative allegiances are sacrificed for bragging rights and false reign of the office kingdom.
It’s a disgraceful working world of concealment and abuse, with most perpetrated by the supposed victims of mismanagement themselves in response to the hard choices laid out, each giving as good as they get as dog eats dog.
Latterly it becomes hard to feel that initial sympathy at the ear bashing of Baldwin for too long when a band of working men are intent on gain and complicit in the business of flattery and half-truths. With the working man being as much an integral part of the deception it’s a damning indictment of the shady enterprise within 1980’s American business and sadly, how the working man becomes a product of and a vital cog in the capitalist machine no matter how profess they may be in opposition of the power from above.
As compassion wains from Baldwin’s entrance by way of unfolding sleazy acts and a growing familiarity with a group of desperately shallow souls, the question of professional conduct is raised in the revealing final act.
Glengarry Glen Ross in an extraordinary movie of high quality acting and sublimely demonstrative dialogue, with acts that conjure many brilliant verbal and moral conflicts, with the most unpalatable truth being that these self-proclaimed modern-day working class men in their desperation, would seek to shaft the very self-same working Americans they claim they’re selling the dream to.