I HAD FORGOTTEN that Glengarry Glen Ross (1992) was written by David Mamet, the prolific playwright who also writes and directs films. I had been wanting to see it for years, but never got beyond a moment or two on the tele. It occupies an interesting niche in the world of cinema: it must be considered as among the essentials, yet not one of the truly great films of all time. Essential because of its powerhouse presentation of ensemble actors: Al Pacino, Jack Lemmon, Alec Baldwin, Alan Arkin, Ed Harris, Kevin Spacey and Jonathan Pryce are all at the top of their form. You will not see a film which features a better acting crew.
And Glengarry Glen Ross is a good movie, probably the ultimate film about salesmen. At 100 compact minutes, it is a tight little powderkeg of a film, neatly executed and wrapped up. But therein may be seen the film’s big flaw: the plot is a little too one-note, a little too concise, and the result is a film which, having originated as a play, can’t help get past feeling a little stagey. Adding to this sense is that the story never fully develops in the explosive way that one can imagine — that package remains wrapped up at the end, instead of strewn about the streets.
But the film is hardly wrecked; it is highly absorbing and, again, essential viewing. I’ve been wanting to write about Mamet films for some time — a number of movies he wrote are unified by a very distinctive, play-like dialogue. Unlike a number of stage productions which are converted to film, the cadence and intrigue of his writing translates well to film. If you’ve not seen a Mamet picture, start with Edmond (2005, William H. Macy) instead of this one — which brings me back to the point I made earlier: though Edmond is a better film than Glengarry Glen Ross, one cannot hail it as ‘essential’. 7/10