(WARNING: Major spoilers abound!)
The next time your best friend whines about his job, show him Glengarry Glen Ross. Believe me, he’ll shut up fast.
The script’s stage origins are obvious (David Mamet wrote the play and adapted it for the movie), but nobody will mistake this for just a photographed stage play. It involves some of the sorriest real-estate salesmen in Chicago, fully embodied by Al Pacino, Jack Lemmon, Ed Harris, Alan Arkin, and Kevin Spacey as the office manager.
In a bravura opening sequence, Alec Baldwin, the downtown higher-up, brusquely issues the latest sales challenge for the month. First prize gets a Cadillac, second prize gets a set of steak knives, and third prize gets a pink slip.
As if that wasn’t incentive enough, the sales guys are given “leads” (potential customers to call) that are like “I Love Lucy” reruns: decades old, and seen a thousand times before. With this minimum of exposition, we watch the guys at what could be called work — their suit coats dripping with flop sweat, varying their phone calls between telling loved ones that they’ll be late again and pursuing old leads to share a “marvelous opportunity” with them.
Compounding the frustration are the “good leads” that Spacey keeps locked in his office, “for the sellers.” Suddenly it dawns on a couple of the guys: What if the office was burglarized and the good leads stolen?
Of course, the stupidity of this situation could be argued in a second: Wouldn’t anyone who made a sale from the good leads be caught red-handed? But then again, the leads, like the MacGuffin in Hitchcock movies, are beside the point. It’s really an excuse for David Mamet to throw a bunch of frantic old men together like cattle heading for slaughter, each not listening to the other guy, but waiting for that other guy to stop talking so that he can be heard. None of them exhibits the slightest joy in life. Even Spacey, the office manager with a loving family at home and an office full of great leads, can’t find it in himself to wallow in his superiority.
As simplistic as the movie’s set-up is, it’s some kind of career high point for everyone involved. (My only warning is to watch out for this R-rated movie’s generous use of the F-word — when asked, Baldwin even claims it’s his first name.) “Weepie” movies come with the advice to have your handkerchiefs ready. Anyone who watches Glengarry Glen Ross should be prepared with a good stiff drink in front of him.