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Scott Ventura >> Movie Commentary >> January 1999 >> Glengarry Glen Ross

Glengarry Glen Ross

Movie Commentary by Scott Ventura


Scott's Rating:
5 / 5
Times Seen:
Viewing Date:
January 1999
IMDB Name:
Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)
James Foley
MPAA Rating:
R for language.

Unlikely Motivations

A long time ago, in a suburb three hundred miles away, I worked in a retail music store. The demo tapes and CDs were occasionally sacrificed to the employees to make room for new demo material. One of my prizes was the soundtrack for Glengarry Glen Ross. I didn't know anything in particular about the movie, but the music was pleasantly jazzy.

Having read the Ebert review, I knew enough about the plot to recognize when "The Simpsons" were doing a parody. After seeing several episodes which incorporated it to varying degrees, I knew I had to know where the jokes were coming from. Now I know.

Mamet does Miller

I remember being really moved by Death of a Salesman in high school. The Dustin Hoffman performance was outstanding, and even before that, I'd found the Arthur Miller play fantastic. Glengarry Glen Ross, originally a David Mamet play, treads along similar lines, but softens its focus to deal with more characters and the interesting ways in which they all break down. There is no doubt that Mamet has worked his linguistic magic here. The speech patterns of the characters, supposedly rehearsed for weeks before filming, are astonishing. There is a definite rhythm and counterpoint to every exchange. The previously-mentioned pleasantly jazzy score is the perfect complement to the dialogue, much the same way Kevin Smith used jazz to accompany Jason Mewes in Chasing Amy.


The catalyst that sets the movie in motion is provided by a very snappy Alec Baldwin performance in which four men are told that two of them will lose their jobs in a few days. The agony in three of the principle characters is very powerful. Ed Harris puts on the most visible display of anger, going off like a firecracker at a moment's notice. Alan Arkin wears a very credible incredulity for much of the movie, and infuses his character with a quiet energy that provides stark contrast to Harris's character. Jack Lemmon really shines, though, as the truly desperate man who has lied so much at work that he barely knows how to tell the truth. The lengths to which he goes trying to provide for his unseen family are heart rending. It's Lemmon's character that most closely resembles Willy Loman, and it's also the one that appears so often in The Simpsons.

On the other end of the spectrum, Al Pacino sails through his portrayal of the top salesman who has little to fear from the new threat. We see his character making sales with the utmost smoothness and see why he is the best of them. Kevin Spacey has the unenviable role of the only primary character not in danger of losing his shirt. His perfect calm in the face of the storm is quite eerie.

Subtle Pleasure

I found joy in the movie for its execution, not its subject matter. There isn't a bad performance to be found, and the technical work is also very nice. The combination of strong writing, excellent characterizations, good visual feel, and all-too-true story make Glengarry Glen Ross an experience, but not a happy one. The origins as a play are visible because of the amount of dialogue and absence of motion, but they don't diminish the pathos at all.

Other Opinions

Copyright 1999-2001 by Scott Ventura. All rights reserved.