Glengarry Glen Ross (1992): James Foley’s Noir Version of Mamet Play

In Glengarry Glen Ross, James Foley’s noirish version of David Mamet’s Pulitzer Prize winning play, real estate salesmen are presented as an abrasive desperate breed. Mamet has a special gift for drawing realistic portraits out of harsh yet funny lowlifers. A good deal of the salesmen’s time is spent socializing with clients, while waiting for new leads and new buyers. Dramatic tension derives from the rancorous dialogue rather than melodramatic plot about theft and police investigation.

The picture maintains the play’s unity of time, with the narrative spanning roughly 24 hours. Though switching the action from the play’s claustrophobic office interiors to a telephone booth or a Chinese restaurant, the sets and lighting remain deliberately stylized, which befit Mamet’s dialogue. More effective on stage than on screen, the dialogue recalls the spare rhythms and silences of British playwright Harold Pinter. Even so, using values from his native Chicago and his experience in a real-estate office, makes Mamet’s post-modern minimalism uniquely American.

Mamet created a new character for the film, Big boss Blake (Alec Baldwin), whose motto is “ABC–Always Be Closing”; Baldwin’s wonderfully staged entrance sets the intense tone for the entire picture. The main characters are Shelley Levine (Jack Lemmon), the alternately desperate and deceiving salesman, and the shrewd, self-confident Ricky Roma (Al Pacino). Conning the viewers into complicity, Mamet forces them to experience the anger felt by a humiliated buyer like James Lingk (Jonathan Pryce). Mamet’s hellish vision of the business world–both immoral and amoral–touches deep chords. Unlike Arthur Miller’s preachy and moralistic Death of a Salesman, Glengarry Glen Ross reflects the 1990s zeitgeist and its unsanctimonious tone.