Saturday, December 25, 2010
#13: Glengarry Glen Ross
It's very tricky when a movie has a cast of 6 stellar names- each of whom could star in a solo film and deliver an unforgettable performance. It's even trickier when unlike The Bridge Too Far or Spartacus or How the West Was Won, the movie is nowhere in the vicinity of 3 hours; instead it's all of 100 minutes. It is trickier because in crunching time each of the leading names gets a smaller duration of time to showcase their skill and exhibit consistent character traits. But it can happen if the script in such a case is so watertight that you forget who's delivering the lines but what are the lines that are being delivered. David Mamet with his story in Glengarry Glen Ross gives us a fine illustration of how it is to be accomplished.
Now consider a motion picture all of 100 minutes with Ed Harris, Kevin Spacey, Alan Arkin, Al Pacino, Alec Baldwin and Jack Lemmon- all packed into a real estate office going full throttle with verbal volleys against each other and what you have is the setting of Glengarry Glen Ross. That sales office has a monthly sales contest which has salesman Ricky Roma ( Al Pacino) leading the figures. If he stays there, he wins a Cadillac. The other guys competing with him are old hand Shelley 'The Machine' Levene ( Jack Lemmon) who hasn't got a penny to his name on the sales board along with Moss (Ed Harris) and George ( Alan Arkin).
Apart from Roma, everyone's struggling and needs better leads. They're brought in by the hot shot department head Blake (Alec Baldwin) who has a cameo very similar to what he would play in The Departed years later. He has got one monologue in the movie and that's all he takes to sweep you off your feet. Those leads are handed over to the unit manager John (Kevin Spacey) and overnight those premium leads that everyone is so desperate for are stolen from the office. The story from there on is to find out who the culprit is.
The shooting took less than 40 days, all of it shot mostly in sequence with the majority of the action taking place in one office. The movie has a terrific pace going for it, first tickling you a bit in the beginning as the characters get introduced and as the action progresses gripping you in the action. The project had a hard time getting off the ground with few people willing to finance it because of the strong abusive language involved.( Fuck - 138 times, that 1.38 fucks per minute compared to 1.32 for Scarface - don't you love this ? Where else would you get data with such precision sliced and served for you). Investors involved small-time cable and television companies and yet the troubles didn't end. The producers had a fallout and sued each other and to top it all the movie didn't even recover it's cost.
And yet whenever we guys get discussing about movies around work, this is one movie that brings a spark to the eye of every person on a drinks table who has been in sales and seen this movie. As I said in the beginning, make no mistake, author David Mamet is the hero of this movie- his insights, his dialogues laced with the trademark profanity amongst sales guys and the desire to 'always be closing' is something Mamet brought from his own experience of having worked in a real estate office and how he nailed it!
Glengarry Glen Ross will be a very special movie for you if you've been in sales but the beauty of the movie is that it will still be a very special movie even if you haven't.