They don’t make ’em like Glengarry Glen Ross anymore.
At least these films, adult-oriented dramas with an elite cast of talent, David Mamet’s abrasive rat-a-tat dialogue, and tension in words more than actions, don’t find their way to multiplexes. There’s little room for a Glengarry Glen Ross film to be wedged in between a superhero movie and a sci-fi epic.
Mamet’s screenplay, based on his award-winning play, directed by James Foley, has a specific universality. No matter how strong the economy may be, no matter how squared away the working man is, there is always someone out there like Jack Lemmon’s Shelly Levene. Lemmon, who made a career out of plying the sympathetic loser, delivers one of the greatest performances of his great career. Shelly Levine has no shot at the Glengarry leads, no matter how desperately he tries. And those moments of desperation, whether they happen inside the dreary phone booth, or at the door of a client in the middle of the night, are painful to watch. Lemmon lives in the role. In fact, the collaboration of everyone in Glengarry Glen Ross is the most divine bit of casting of any film in the past 30 years.
Ed Harris is hard-talking, bitter schlub, Dave Moss. Alan Arkin’s disparate real-estate salesman, George, is a bit dim, a bit aloof. Al Pacino nails the part of Ricky Roma, the supreme salesman, though his typical bloviating and gesticulating is subdued here. Kevin Spacey, who was a terrific serpentine yuppie in his earlier days, plays serpentine boss, John. And then, well, there’s Alec Baldwin.
The perennial fame of Glengarry Glen Ross, however large or small that imprint may be, is primarily because of the incredible Baldwin cameo. He is Blake, a hotshot from “downtown” who is here to tell these losers just how big of losers they are. It’s a firecracker of a performance, which has carried the legacy of the entire picture. In fact, there is literally no way to possibly discuss the moment without seeing it…
Baldwin kickstarts the film, and the rest of the brilliant cast brings it home. Mamet’s words, more about what’s left unsaid than what these characters say to each other, create mystery in sideways glances. Glengarry Glen Ross is a film we don’t see much anymore. If we do, they land on Netflix or HBO or streaming services; think Robert De Niro’s latest, The Wizard of Lies, a film of similar prestige and star power which was released on HBO in the middle of the summer, not early December for an awards season push.
The film adaptation nabbed only one Oscar nomination, a supporting nom for Al Pacino’s hotshot Ricky Roma. It should have gone to Jack Lemmon, or Alec Baldwin, but time has corrected this in our collective unconscious. Glengarry Glen Ross will live on, the story will endure, and the universality of this pitiful men and their predicament will forever feel relevant.