Movie Reviews 403 – Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)

“Gotta have the leads”

That cryptic phrase is the essence of Glengarry Glen Ross, the film scripted by and based on David Mamet’s Pulitzer Prize winning play. The ‘leads’ in this case are a coveted list of potential customers for a group of desperate real estate salesmen working in a branch office of a firm that has just cold-heartedly announced the least successful salesman that month will be shown out the door.

With the exception of Richard Roma (Al Pacino), who is on track to win a coveted Cadillac for best salesman that month, all the others in the office are already just barely clinging on when their office manager Williamson (Kevin Spacey) calls a surprise meeting to set the stage for Blake (Alec Baldwin), a hard nosed VP ‘from downtown’ to unleash the news that they have one week ‘get on the board’ with fresh sales. But before the meeting is over Blake taunts the men with a stack of prime new “Glengarry” leads that will only go to ‘closers’. Leads that the men desperately need.

The wretched salesmen include Shelley “The Machine” Levene (Jack Lemmon), once a high flying pitch man now pitifully recalling former glory days when in reality he can’t even afford the measly hundred dollars he bribes Williamson for a few of the new leads. Moss (Ed Harris) is the one with a chip on his shoulder constantly threatening to jump ship and join a competing firm. The only associate he can even have a non-combative discussion with is George (Alan Arkin) only because George is so low on self esteem and confidence himself most of his words are merely echoing what others say.

It’s all about the leads. The leads the men are handed are obsolete and hopeless, and they know it. Moss tempts George with a late night break-in to snatch the new leads which they can then sell to the competition. Shelley, tries to bribe Williamson for just a few new leads to get some sales back into the game. And while all this is happening, Roma slowly, masterfully works over a barfly (Jonathan Pryce) over drinks to land a sale, right under the noses of all the others.

The stellar cast is only outdone by the intricate, crisp dialogue in Mamet’s script. We have Blake’s expletive laced tirade against the salesforce which includes him bringing out an actual set of brass balls to embolden the men. Roma’s pitch is much more subtle with Pacino rambling nonsensically as he slowly but surely lures his mark. The one common thread spewed by each and every salesman are the litany of lies, deceit, maneuvering, foot-in-the-door tactics they unleash on potential prospects. It is both a delight and eye opening to hear the pitches coming from every conceivable angle for that almighty redeeming sale.

Come morning the men arrive at the office to find out that there has been a break in and, surprise, they leads have been stolen. Did Moss follow through on his plan to con George into breaking in? Did “The Machine” have more than mere luck with a huge overnight sale he flaunts in Willamson’s face? The already high strung office explodes with yet more bickering, threats and distress.

I never get tired of this drama. A jewel just as precious as those sacrosanct leads.

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