It’s a film about a despicable world which promotes despicable people and despicable behavior. That’s the world of the real estate salesmen in Glengarry Glen Ross. Here are men who use any mode necessary to close deals as they say. They finagle, lie, cheat and even steal because those are just tricks of the trade. Those who get the good leads are able to close more deals and make more bank. Those who get the leftovers struggle to swing something out of nothing. Shelley “The Machine” Levene (Jack Lemmon) is one of those struggling after many years of success in the business or racket, whichever you prefer. He has a lovely personality, rather like a hissing snake trying to seduce you before going in for the kill. On the flip side, he can be a real jerk and he is unscrupulous as all get out.
But that’s enough on Shelley. The office is run by rigid John Williamson (Kevin Spacey) who just follows his orders and does not budge an inch. Then there is Ricky Roma (Al Pacino), the top closer who is especially cynical but also a great admirer of Shelley’s skill. Dave Moss (Ed Harris) is a man with a big mouth and fiery temper not ready to sit by while other men outperform him. Finally, there’s George Aaronow (Alan Arkin) a man who humors Moss and is also fed up with his situation.
The wheels start turning when the Big Whigs send in a man named Blake (Alec Baldwin) to motivate the salesmen. It’s the survival of the fittest after all and they know what it takes to sell real estate so he encourages them to go and do likewise. His main tactics include berating, insults, and threats against their careers (They either get a car, a set of knives or the boot). Verbal attacks are sometimes more pernicious than physical beatings and that’s the truth here. They never relent even after Blake leaves because that’s the type of choice words that this environment fosters. One minute a salesman uses a polished voice to coerce a client then turns right around to bad mouth a colleague.
Moss on his part tries to pull Aaronow into his plan to steal the good leads from Williamson’s office. A desperate Levene tries to get better leads from an unrelenting Williamson as the veteran man struggles to convince clients and deal with his ill daughter. Roma, on his part, is at top form playing his client (Jonathan Pryce) and getting him to stay with a deal until it gets messed up. In the process we see all the pettiness, desperateness and corruption unleashed. The burglary goes down and it does not necessarily involve who you would think. Maybe it does. That’s not the point, though. The point is these men will do anything given the position they are in, but it’s not that simple because each one has their complexities. For instance, Levene and Roma are on very good terms and Moss and Aaronow seem very buddy, buddy. But ultimately it seems they look out for number one and that takes its toll on any human being.
The film is a biting drama brought to us through a fiery and sometimes brutal script from David Mamet, based on his play. Furthermore, the story is aided by an all-star cast of big names. Each one plays an equally despicable character. I knew Pacino, Spacey, Harris, and Arkin were up to the task because I had seen them before in tough or villainous roles. However, to his credit Jack Lemmon shows his versatility here since I absolutely despised him for once. That’s no easy task and he proved it to be possible. This film may be a black comedy, but there really should not be much to laugh at.