Inside a dog-eat-dog real estate company, the salesmen are given an ultimatum: hit a set of new targets or hit the road! The salesmen argue, complain, fight, pitch, scheme and try to figure out a way to survive. But during the night the office is burgled of the high value ‘Glengarry’ leads… so who done it?
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Based on the David Mamet play, Glengarry Glen Ross pulled in a cast full of top rank Hollywood actors, all of whom came for the material and not the money. Al Pacino, Ed Harris, Alan Arkin, Alec Baldwin, Jonathan Pryce and Kevin Spacey are all on top form. But the film belongs to the most senior actor on screen, one who is nothing short of a screen acting legend and in Glengarry Glen Ross he proves why, he is… Jack Lemon! As Shelly “The Machine” Levine, Jack Lemmon gives the standout performance of the movie.
We see Shelly’s desperation in the opening of the movie. He tries to negotiate with Spacey’s sales manager Williamson to give him the “good leads” in a blathering, mumbling and quite wonderful repertoire that gets shot down at every turn. Right away we empathize with Shelly, he’s just a good guy out of his luck… someone give him a break? This is the power of Lemmon’s ability with character; he can make you feel these emotions for his character within seconds! It’s in his voice, his body and most importantly the way he uses his facial expressions.
Finally Shelly makes a house call! From the moment he arrives he’s clinging desperately to the client’s reluctant welcome. You really feel for poor Shelly here, you can see he’s being too forceful again! Lemmon’s ability to play these emotions is flawless. His big, artificial attempt to get Larry (Bruce Altman) on the couch and listening is wonderful! It’s funny because we know what Shelly is up to and it’s a pleasure to see Larry finally work things out: “You’re here to sell me land!” Shelly Levine himself is an archetype we’ve met before, that salesperson that’s really tying to get you to listen to him. You want to help him out but you just don’t want to buy! This type of character gets an equal helping of like and dislike from us.
When you look at the scene with Spacey’s Williamson in his car there is a similar dynamic. Even though Spacey cannot give Shelly the leads, he seems to be entertained by Shelly’s tenacity. In a sick way perhaps Williamson wants Shelly to keep coming back so he can shoot him down. Shelly used to be high flying but he just isn’t today as he keeps referring to a bad streak. With the intensity of the acting the battle to keep the job becomes like a battle to save his life. Shelly’s desperation starts to become like something you would expect from a man on death row. As the movie progresses there seems to be no hope for him.
The final scene is a brilliant ensemble piece of acting; all the actors get in on the action. In a way it starts and finishes with Lemmon. He enters the office in high spirits as if he’s won first prize! It’s bittersweet but foolish as he’s drawing way too much attention to himself. He becomes arrogant towards Williamson and we know that this can’t last for too long. The story of Shelly’s undoing is unraveled by the way the actor’s are reacting to each other. Even though his guilty truth is said right out in black and white by Spacey; we actually figure it out much earlier by the subtle details in Lemmon’s performance when Spacey asks: “How do you know I made it up?” Lemmon fidgets, snivels and twitches under Spacey’s scrutiny and we fear for the poor man. That’s the brilliance of Jack Lemmon as he has us on his side to the point that we know he’s guilty of a crime but don’t want him to get busted!
Glengarry Glen Ross is a must for people who enjoy watching tense drama. We get the cool bravado of Pacino, a village idiot from Arkin, a broken man from Pryce, a miserable loser from Harris and a truly nasty boss from Spacey all interacting with each other… a hilariously insightful character study. The film is cut straight to the point without a single frame wasted. It’s very rare to have such an accomplished cast live up to the level you’d be expecting. Glengarry Glen Ross is funny and gripping throughout reminding you that such films come around only every once in a while. It’s also a tribute to the talent of Jack Lemmon who is in a class of his own throughout!