The transition from stage to screen can be tricky. The theatre maintains an intimate and personal quality that can sometimes be weakened or omitted entirely when swapped for a multiplex screen. But when adapted perfectly, the end product can be as thrilling and captivating as the stage production. This is exactly what director James Foley achieved back in 1992 when he adapted David Mamet’s Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning play, Glengarry Glen Ross.
The film centres around a group of real-estate salesman who use dubious and somewhat sleazy methods of selling land and property. When sales start drying up, a ‘motivational trainer’ is sent in, who lambasts them, stating that only the top two salesman at the end of the week will be rewarded with prize incentives, while the remainder will be axed from the company. The trainer also brings a collection of new high-value leads, but taunts the salesmen by claiming that they will only be handed out to ‘closers.’ With the threat of being fired over their heads and the inability to access the new prospects, the salesmen desperately try to sell to the dead-end leads they have.
There is no time wasted in introducing the characters, and the camera throws us straight into the drama, introducing all of our lead characters in a single swoop. The opening sequences are arguably the best in the film. The salesmen, bar top-performer Ricky Roma (Al Pacino), arrive at the office to find Blake (Alec Baldwin), the trainer sent to whip them into shape. The role of Blake was written specifically for the film, and Baldwin gives it his all. His monologue is fantastically terrifying, with him barking at the salesmen for being pathetic and weak, often flaunting his successes as a salesman to emasculate the others. It’s a blistering sequence which sets the tone of the film perfectly.
We then spend our time cutting to the salesmen on their rounds, making house visits and frantically placing phone-calls. Shelley Levene (Jack Lemmon) evokes a massive amount of sympathy from the viewer, with the down-on-his-luck persona only becoming more tragic with his failed sales attempts. Dave Moss (Ed Harris) and George Aaronow (Alan Arkin) build the suspense for the film’s second-act with talk of robbing the office and taking the new leads. Pacino’s Ricky Roma appears to be the most laid-back and slick of the bunch, but his sleazy and untrustworthy nature becomes painfully apparent during a conversation with James Lingk (Jonathan Pryce), during which he plays on Lingk’s insecurities. In charge of all of them is Williamson, portrayed by a pre-Oscar-winning Kevin Spacey.
Each of the featured actors have their moment to shine, but it is really Pacino and Lemmon who capture your attention the most. Lemmon is so believable as the unlucky salesman that the character Gil Gunderson from The Simpsons was modelled on his performance. Pacino, on the other hand, juxtaposes his character’s nature perfectly. His initial conversation with Lingk is suave and composed, and later his fury is unleashed as he tears Williamson apart. Both Pacino and Lemmon were critically praised, with the former receiving a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for his performance, and the latter being awarded the Volpi Cup for Best Actor award at the Venice Film Festival.
The screenplay is terrific also, with original playwright David Mamet penning the script. Mamet adapts his original text masterfully to fit the screen, incorporating all the tension-building profanity that made the play so controversial on its original release.
The Blu-ray remastering seems odd at first, given that the film does not necessarily have any high-octane set-pieces or bright, colourful scenery that could be improved. But it does improve the level of fine detail, fuelling the intimacy of the film, and improving it as a stage adaption as a result.
Glengarry Glen Ross might have been overlooked by many over the years, despite the stacked cast it has. And, given the recent success of stage adaptations (Denzel Washington’s Fences, for example), now is a better time than any to revisit this fantastic gem of a film.
Dir: James Foley
Prd: Jerry Tokofsky, Stanley R. Zupnik
Scr: David Mamet
Cast: Al Pacino, Jack Lemmon, Alan Arkin, Ed Harris, Kevin Spacey, Alec Baldwin, Jonathan Pryce
DOP: Juan Ruiz Anchía
Music: James Newton Howard
Country: United States
Run Time: 100 mins
Glengarry Glen Ross is out on Blu-ray now.