"The directing, workmanlike and unobtrusive, but goddamn, this is a great script."
"The dialogue was the real star of the film and the reason my interest was held. "
"Great insight into dealings with failure."
Alec Baldwin, who I don’t think is named by the movie (?), kicks things off with his iconic speech. What’s my name? Fuck you, that’s my name. He sets the stakes with a system that only values first place, condescends to anything only good enough, and heartily discards what lands below the line. His value is only established by the cost of his car or his watch. The men in the room don’t challenge him because they want what he has, and what he really has is clichéd corporate anagrams that don’t add up to anything. He establishes a state of nature, where the man with the most resources is the only winner. All the rest are scraps.
The way this contest, and the pursuit of the good leads, pits the four salesmen against each other plays right into Baldwin’s worldview. During senior seminar, we read a paper that was about three different sexual morphologies of a species of lizard. One kind overpowered competitors, another was sneaky, and the other tricked the strong by luring it out of its nest. Ricky Roma (Pacino) crushes the competition with his superior sales numbers, while Moss (Ed Harris) plays mind games with the two weaker salesmen. Aaronow (Alan Arkin) correctly decides not to play while Shelley (Levine) tries to be sneaky, but fails. Moss places his faith in the wrong man and will likely be prosecuted. Aaronow might win second by default, but the next time a hard sales target shows up, he’ll be gone. Roma wins, because in this world, he with the most toys wins.
I appreciated the smaller Pacino performance, after he went huge with Scent of a Woman the year before, but Jack Lemmon is the winner here. I’d call him the main character. We’re meant to sympathize with him based on his conversations with his wife and his daughter in the hospital, but he reveals himself to be a greedy, mean sack of shit. The dressing-down he gives Kevin Spacey’s character is brutal. He’s a man who is given an inch, with his supposed big sale from the Nyborgs, but takes a mile. Spacey takes it all away from him, and he’s so pathetic at this point, that he’s basically beyond sympathy. He struck me as a guy who once was successful at his job, but he hasn’t adjusted his technique in years. It’s the same hectoring, condescending voice with nothing behind it. Mamet’s script makes sure to never give him an umbrella, so he’s always soaking wet with rain and/or flop sweat. Lemmon sells all of this well. The Machine needs this money for his family and his daughter, but he’s just not good at this anymore.
The other three salesmen are all pretty pathetic in their own ways. Roma is the most charismatic, which is likely why he’s the most successful, but he’s utterly heartless with his mark in the restaurant. He’s going to possibly cause the dissolution of that poor schmo’s marriage, but what he’s most upset about is Spacey blowing the sale. It’s noticeable that he’s not in the room for Baldwin’s speech, as he could be the kind of guy giving that speech at a different time, and he likely wouldn’t have taken it. Aaronow just sucks at everything, and is a charmless black hole. Roma calls him a good man, but this is after we’ve been told by Baldwin how little that matters. Moss is an incompetent Machiavelli, placing big bets on two old men with a high chance of failure. His whining gets old fast, and was possibly all an act to get Levine or Aaronow on his side.
The main thing that I’ll take away from Glengarry Glen Ross is how brutally capitalist systems reduce their subjects to numbers. What you’ve done in the past doesn’t matter, how you live your life doesn’t matter, the caliber of your character doesn’t matter. All that matters is what have you done lately. The only thing that carries currency is hard numbers. Spacey is resistant to Levine’s pleas, begging out on the data being all-important, and if he doesn’t bend to them, someone else will. I really enjoyed this film, landing on an A-. Due to its density, I would likely have a completely different take on a rewatch. It loses points on the directing, but very few of them. Framing a conversation well is a no small skill, and the director is able to do that, but the rest is unremarkable. Only a few points though.