FILM (1992) | South China Morning Post
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  • Mar 1, 2015
  • Updated: 1:56am

FILM (1992)

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 21 August, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 21 August, 2011, 12:00am

Glengarry Glen Ross
Al Pacino, Jack Lemmon, Alec Baldwin
Director: James Foley

The latest stock market catastrophe again highlighted the volatility of money. It might be the root of all evil, but everyone needs it.

Unlike, say, love though, money is rarely tackled in the movies - partly because executives don't want to depress their economy-escaping audiences and partly because, well, it's hard for an extremely liquid filmmaker to relate. Which makes it of little surprise that cinema's finest money movie is a transplant from the suffering-artist stage: David Mamet's Pulitzer Prize-winning Glengarry Glen Ross.

On a dark, rainy night, four down-on-their-luck real estate salesmen are sitting in their depressing, decades-old office. In walks a successful executive, who announces a sales competition. First prize: a Cadillac Eldorado. Second prize: a set of steak knives. Third prize: you're fired. Cue two hours of double-dealings, dishonesty and desperation, all in the name of money.

They say all you need is a great script and everything else will fall into place. But a good cast is just as essential, and the film is practically a masterclass in performance. To save space, I'll just list the all-male dramatis personae and let you decide: Al Pacino, Alec Baldwin, Kevin Spacey, Ed Harris, Alan Arkin, Jonathan Pryce and a never-better Jack Lemmon.

That leaves room to write about Mamet's script. It's the ultimate showcase of 'Mamet speak', the writer's trademark approach to subtle, street-smart conversation filled with endless double-meaning and overlapping dialogue (for other great examples, see two underrated DeNiro/Mamet gems, Ronin and Wag the Dog).

Mamet was obviously at his peak when he wrote Glengarry, but more than that, the greatness of the script came through its subject. Money, barring relationships, causes the most emotional distress in a person's life, and a lack of it can be extremely apparent in our anxious chat. Mamet captures his destitute, deadbeat salesmen perfectly, every nervous nuance and insecure inflection brought forward in not what the characters say, but the way they worriedly say it.

He's gone on to mine the matter to death in his heist-and-con directorial efforts, but it was here that Mamet captured it most succinctly. The dialogue is so fresh and real, one hardly notices the film takes place predominantly in the salesmen's gloomy real estate office. And it's here that director James Foley comes in - stage-to-screen adaptations often suffer the 'filmed play' syndrome, but the cramped quarters work in favour of the story's nocturnal mood.

Foley shoots Glengarry like a Depression-era Edward Hopper painting, each carefully chosen location and lighting selection (late-night diner, neon lights through venetian blinds) ideal for the plight of its penniless, raincoat-wearing salesmen.

Glengarry Glen Ross captures the highs and lows of money: how little we notice it when we're up, but how quickly we scheme and shout when we're down. Through a combination of an exceptional cast, understated direction and Mamet's razor-sharp script, it is - as the tagline says - a story for everyone who works for a living.


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