Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)

4/5

USA; James Foley 

Parental Guidance – Pervasive Strong Language; Mature Themes

 

 

Based on David Mamet’s profane, controversial play, Glengarry Glen Ross, scripted by Mamet himself, focuses on four real estate agents constantly living on the edge, with financial and moral bankruptcy looming ahead. Ricky Roma (Al Pacino) is currently the hotshot, and is on the verge of closing a significant deal that would secure him a first place on the company’s board. Shelley Levene (Jack Lemmon) used to reign over the company not so long ago, but a bad streak means his golden days are over, despite his obstinate denial to acknowledge he’s not the same man any longer - he got old… Moss and George are latently revolting against the “medieval” motivational strategies, but none of them can, eventually, break free from the soul-destroying, macho logic of a world they desperately want to belong to.

 

Baldwin’s vitriolic, acrid diatribe is certainly one of the most infamous tirade in movie history, and one of the most infuriating scenes one is likely to see in a while. It sets the plot in motion and, in brisk, undoubtedly brutal strokes, draws the portrait of a generation of pathetic white-collar drones struggling at the deep rock bottom of one of the numerous pitfalls of the American Dream. Baldwin is pitch perfect for the role, exuding a blend of sleek machismo, invulnerability and arrogance that lends credibility to what could be a gross caricature. He does not try to soften his character, but makes him instantly believable to the core. But what is stunning about this scene is that Baldwin’s hateful harangue still reverberates today between the glass walls of corporate skyscrapers all over the world. And will probably still continue to haunt the players and victims of hypercapitalism years from now. 

 

The direction is retrained and cinematic arabesques are at a deliberate minimum. The movie was, at its release, a damning indictment of office politics. In the middle of the most serious economic crisis in decades, one can imagine how it plays. That it has lost none of its power is an understatement. But what makes the movie such a cinematic feast for film aficionados is a mix of masterfully written and timed dialogues and a stellar cast. After all, isn’t cinema essentially about watching great actors reciting great lines? Mamet’s dialogue has a demonic, demented cadence, which breathes new life and an incredible dynamism into a film in which very little happens plot-wise. What is truly remarkable is the symphonic, choral dimension of the scenes, which elevates the material. Arguments and abuse start as a kind of cruel, gratuitous wordplay, but exhilaratingly work their way up towards a grand chorus.

 

All in all, if Glengarry Glen Ross’ narrative lack of vim might mean this is definitively not for everyone, it is still a terrific achievement. What we are treated to are two brilliant turns from Pacino and Lemmon, snapping lines and an insight into corporate world that is by turns utterly hilarious, sardonically witty and truly frightening.

 

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