Artisan // 1992 // 100 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // November 13th, 2002
Lie, cheat, steal. All in a day's work.
Years ago, playwright Arthur Miller penned the tragic stage show "Death of a Salesman," featuring everyone's favorite loser, Willy Loman. The show (which has been adapted to TV and film numerous times) was a hit and a scathing look at the hard-lined life of door-to-door sales. Decades later, David Mamet -- the Arthur Miller of our time -- would write the 1983 theatrical show "Glengarry Glen Ross," winner of numerous awards including the Pulitzer Prize. In 1992, director James Foley (At Close Range, The Corruptor) brought Glengarry Glen Ross to the screen sporting an all-star cast including Alec Baldwin (Beetlejuice), Alan Arkin (The In-Laws), Ed Harris (The Abyss), Al Pacino (Insomnia), Kevin Spacey (American Beauty), and late Hollywood legend Jack Lemmon (The Odd Couple, Grumpy Old Men). Glengarry Glen Ross is now available in a two-disc DVD set from Artisan Home Entertainment.
At the offices of Premiere Properties, the time has come to fish or cut bait -- the bosses have brought in an egotistic hotshot (Baldwin) from downtown to let the sales force know that a new contest is underway. First prize is a new car. Second prize is a set of steak knives. Third prize is you're fired. At first, the salesmen don't know what to think. Then they slowly begin to realize that the cold and calculating office manager (Spacey) means business. He gives them each two "old leads" that are nearly impossible to close on. There is a stack of new beefy leads, but first the men must prove themselves worthy to receive those gold tickets. Each salesman is at a different point in his career. Shelley "The Machine" Levene (Lemmon) was once the number one closer but now toils just to get his foot in the door -- his financial future is on shaky ground. Ricky Roma (Pacino) is the firm's top seller, smooth and cocky in his assurance of his talents. Moss (Harris) and Aaronow (Arkin) spend their time complaining about the lousy leads while silently contemplating criminal activities against the company. It's now up to each man to prove his worth at Premiere Properties before they are forced to hit the streets.
The life of a salesman is not an easy one. Most jobs are 9-5 with duties doled out and finished in a timely manner. This is not the case for salesmen. Some must awake at the crack of dawn to trek against heat, snow, and rain in search of just one single buyer. Others sit day after day at a telephone talking to people they know don't want to talk to them. Rejection lies around every corner, and in large doses. Glengarry Glen Ross gives viewers a glimpse into what it's like to be on that side of the workforce fence.
David Mamet is considered one of the best writers in Hollywood. His golden hand has touched many a screenplay; from Ridley Scott's Hannibal to Danny DeVito's biopic Hoffa, plus Mamet's own State & Main and Heist (which he also directed), Mamet has proven he has a gift with the pen -- he has a way of weaving dialogue that is profane, comic, and poignant all in the same breath. In Glengarry Glen Ross, the beauty of his words often lies in the tragedy of his characters -- like Jimmy Hoffa and Hannibal Lecter, it's hard to think that anyone could ever forget Shelley "The Machine" Levene. While all of the performances in Glengarry Glen Ross are great, Lemmon's may be the best of both the movie and his career. So rarely does a viewer sympathize so heartily with a character -- drowning in debt and struggling with family health issues, Shelley needs more than ever to make a sale. Yet no one in the office puts any stock in him. While Roma recollects the golden days of "The Machine," others know he's a washed up has-been who will go out with the coming tide. And yet we like Shelley. We have faith that he can come up with a sale and save what's left of his pride. There is a wonderful scene where Lemmon, sitting in the home of an uninterested prospect, attempts to garner a close by being as slick and excited as possible. While we know that Shelley's tales are ferocious fabrications (he often tells prospective buyers that he would hate himself if he didn't "share this wonderful opportunity"), we still feel for him -- he is a man with nothing left except the lies he tells (which is something all of these characters have in common).
The rest of the cast is equally as wonderful as Lemmon. Pacino pulls out all the stops with a wonderfully flirtatious performance as the slick huckster Roma. There is yet another grand scene where Pacino attempts to woo a bar patron (Jonathan Pryce, Tomorrow Never Dies) into buying one of his properties. This may be one of Pacino's best and most electric scenes ever filmed. Ed Harris is angry and foaming at the mouth as Moss, a man who seems to be traveling down the same road as Shelley. Glengarry Glen Ross was one of Kevin Spacey's early film roles, though even in early 1992 it was obvious this guy was going to be a star. The only cast member who is sorely underused is Alan Arkin. His character seems to be around just to silently nod his head in acceptance of Moss' gripes. Even so, this is one of the best and most talented casts ever assembled on film.
Mamet's dialogue is not for the faint of heart. There are more four-letter words in this film than on the upper west side of Brooklyn. However, there is a kind of warped poetry in Mamet's words -- like the trashy Showgirls and its oodles and oodles of bare breasts (after a while you stop noticing and start laughing), Glengarry Glen Ross' profanity laced script fades into the background as one becomes enthralled with the story. Those looking for actors at their finest, Glengarry Glen Ross delivers on all levels -- it's a tight, taut look at men on the brink of corporate sanity.
Glengarry Glen Ross is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, making its DVD debut for the first time. Artisan has done a very fine job at making sure this transfer looks clear. Major imperfections are kept to a bare minimum, with colors bold and bright and black levels consistent and dark. Though this may not be a reference quality print, overall Artisan has done a very respectable job at making sure it looks good. Also included on disc two is a full frame pan and scan version of the film, though it's not recommended.
The soundtrack is presented in three options: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround, DTS 5.1 Surround, and Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround, all in English. Both the Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS soundtracks are full and crystal clear. While there are a few directional effect s and surround sounds to be found here (especially during the outside rain sequences), generally this is a frontal mix that is heavy on dialogue (hey, it's a Mamet film -- what did you expect?). All aspects of the sound mix are free and clear of any excessive hiss or distortion. Also included on this disc is a Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround mix in French, as well as English and Spanish subtitles.
Artisan has put together a very nice two-disc edition of Glengarry Glen Ross. The supplements are as follows:
* Commentary by Director James Foley: Sadly, this isn't a full-length commentary by the director; instead, the track is broken up into three separate scenes with Foley making comments over each of them. Even though this isn't very long, I was still enthralled with hearing about the production of the film, especially the way the other actor's hated Alec Baldwin's character so much that they even hated him while the cameras weren't rolling. Since these won't take too long, each of these short segments are highly recommended.
* Magic Time: A Tribute to Jack Lemmon: This is just what it sounds like: a thoughtful remembrance of one of Hollywood's finest. While Lemmon's passing was a loss to millions of fans, this short featurette is a fine way to hear about Lemmon's life through the eyes of those who knew him best. Included in this feature are interviews with Lemmon's son Chris (who both looks and sounds like his pop), actor Peter Gallagher, John Avildsen (who directed Lemmon to an Oscar in 1974's Save The Tiger), Lemmon's agent David Seltzer, James Foley, and Inside the Actor's Studio host James Lipton. Filled with nostalgic anecdotes and retrospectives about the actor, this all-too-short featurette is a wonderful way to learn more about Lemmon's life on and off screen. At the end there's a great segment of Lemmon answering questions on Lipton's show in 1998 -- worth the wait.
* A.B.C. (Always Be Closing): An Original Documentary Tracing the Psychological Intersection of Fictional and Real Life Salesmen: This is a fascinating look at both the history of real life salesmen and cinematic depictions of door-to-door salesmen. There are multiple interviews with actual salesmen reciting some of their techniques and woes about the job, as well as interviews with Hollywood personalities like Barry Levinson. A batch of Hollywood movies are also probed, including Miller's "Death of a Salesman," Tin Men, the documentary Salesman, and others. For those looking to find out more than they ever wanted to know about sales, this is a good place to start.
* J. Roy: New and Used Furniture: This is a short documentary by Tony Buba that follows "Diamond" Jimmy Roy, a Braddock, PA, salesman, through his motivational speeches, sales, and life. This short film is presented in a black and white rough form (it appears to have been shot in the 1950s or '60s) and, much like the Maysles brother's documentary Salesman, is a fascinating peek behind the curtain of this profession.
* Bonus Commentary by Stars Alec Baldwin and Alan Arkin, Production Designer Jane Musky, and Cinematographer Juan Ruiz Anchia: More screen-specific commentary by various cast and crew members. Like Foley's commentary, these seem more to be general thoughts on the film, acting, and the cast than specifics about certain scenes.
* "The Charlie Rose Show" and "Inside the Actor's Studio" Archival Clips: "The Charlie Rose Show" clip features Lemmon discussing his life in Hollywood (and the film's release that particular year). The "Inside the Actor's Studio" clip is a humorous reading of a scene from Glengarry Glen Ross by Spacey with an obviously nervous fan. Both of these are fairly short.
* Cast and Crew Info and Production Notes: Your basic standard DVD supplemental items.
I highly recommend this film to any Mamet or Lemmon fans. I was more than impressed with how heavily this film sucked me into its web of characters. Artisan's work on this disc is excellent -- the retrospective on Lemmon is worth the purchase alone.
Glengarry Glen Ross is @$#&% free to @$#&% go! Case @#&$% dismissed!
Review content copyright © 2002 Patrick Naugle; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Full Frame
* DTS 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (French)
Running Time: 100 Minutes
Release Year: 1992
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* ZSelected Commentary by Director James Foley
* Bonus Commentary by Stars Alec Baldwin and Alan Arkin, Production Designer Jane Musky, and Cinematographer Juan Ruiz Anchia
* "Magic Time: A Tribute to Jack Lemmon" Featurette
* Cast and Crew Biographies
* Production Notes
* "Inside the Actor's Studio" Archival Clip
* "The Charlie Rose Show" Archival Clip