If I were ever in a situation to lecture on effective narrative cinema, I would certainly push the necessity of dialogue. Now dialogue can be minimal but still manage to be effective as is the case in films like 2001: A Space Odyssey or the recent film Drive. However, other films flourish with a presence of seemingly unending dialogue. This is clearly the case with Glengarry Glen Ross, a film directed by James Foley based on an adaptation of prolific playwright David Mamet. The words uttered in this film are masterfully precise and poetic, only to be made all the more miraculous by the ensemble cast, which includes a combination of veteran Hollywood actors, and young actors who were only beginning to make names for themselves as Hollywood icons. It is not particularly cinematic in its portrayal, but the way each actor possesses his space, particularly Jack Lemmon, causes the movie to seem brilliantly shot, despite it being rather stagnant in its composition. In fact, the only clear problem within the film is the heavy male centric composition of the film. It is no surprise that the film is completely void of a single female actress, but the reality of Glengarry Glen Ross is that the world portrayed is that of male power and presence, and it possesses an underlying commentary of the frail state of such social structures.
Glengarry Glen Ross focuses on a group of aging salesmen who are attempting to maintain relevance in a business that no longer welcomes their antiquated methods. The group includes a variety of men, the endearingly friendly, yet sharkishly sly Shelley Levine (Jack Lemmon), the parrot-like follower George Aaronow (Alan Arkin), the angsty rebel Dave Moss (Ed Harris), and the suave yet troubled Ricky Roma (Al Pacino). The crew seems fine to drift through their jobs making just enough to get by, until they are approached by a young, acidic salesmen named Blake (Alec Baldwin) who berates the crew and dismisses their old ways explaining that they must get their act together or become unemployed. The only beneficial outcome is that whoever in the group claims the most sales will receive a Corvette. This announcement, solidified by their manager John Williamson (Kevin Spacey) leads the group into a flurry of misappropriated attempts at sales and emerging dishonesty between a previously close group of friends. The only individual who seems to be fairing well in the entire deal is Ricky who assures deals by taken advantage of drunken men willing to make risky business deals. Shelley becomes completely baffled by the process and attempts to use his old bag of tricks to little success. Dave and George react differently and hatch a robbery plot, which will assure them access to the much coveted lead cards which will almost assure their victory and subsequent employment. After a single night of attempted sales, Shelley returns to an office, which is full of detectives and an angry John who becomes the point of degradation for the crew who hold him responsible for the robbery. While it is clear that George is to blame, he acts innocent, while Shelley brags about a miracle sale he made the night prior. In a moment of pride, he foolishly takes blame for the robbery only to have John explain that his sale was null and void, as it was enacted with two clinically insane individuals. John mocks and derides Shelley and takes pride in putting him in police custody for actions he was not guilty. Befuddled and enraged Shelley is left at a worse place than the films opening, while Ricky scrambles to save his most recent sale. George confused by his stroke of luck simply returns to his job as though the entire nights events never occurred. In the simplest sense, it is a film about individual desires and how such actions completely destroy the possibility of societal cohabitation.
As mentioned in the introduction, the films is entirely male. With the exception of an occasional woman's voice over the phone it is all male actors concerned about things only existing within the male world. The characters only desire to engage with other men and make it quite clear that anything involving women is tragically irrelevant. With just this description alone, it is easy to read the film as a misogynist text that relegates women to the private sphere and as an object without a voice. However, the film is something far greater than this and actually focuses with great detail on the problems of unrestrained patriarchy. The characters begin on and slow decline and only crash into a more tragic end, because their power has never been question in a sense of masculinity. While the characters are clearly degraded from a class and age perspective this seems to affect them very little. It is only when Blake yells at them and questions their masculinity that they seem to become bothered. It is at this point that the entire crew, but George and Dave particularly, become adamant on assuring Blake that he cannot treat people in such a manner. Their rebellion is of course illogical given that the desire to steal a stack of cards to sell for quick cash, when it is apparent that if they were to earn them in a respective manner their profits would increase considerably. Even the award is masculine, as opposed to a raise or honorary praise, the group is offered a muscle car, which has little value aside from bragging rights. Mamet's work is clearly about the problems of male competition becoming horrifically unchecked. The film reflects this ideology and drives it to its most extreme, and the excellent cast solidifies it with each look of despair and confusion as their lives fall into complete chaos.
Glengarry Glen Ross is a contemporary classic and an excellent narrative film. It is well worth watching for each monologue and diatribe and is a perfect example of how one should transfer theater to film. It is a must own, although a regular DVD will do just fine.