Glengarry Glen Ross may have more testosterone than any film ever made. The cast famously called it “Death of a Fucking Salesman,” in reference to its obvious inspiration and its expletive-laden dialogue. Alec Baldwin’s character has arrived to motivate a group of salesmen who have been pitted against each other to get one of just two posts dangled in front of them by their manager. All except for Ricky Roma (Al Pacino) have been given terrible leads, and there is major drama as they undercut and even rob their workplace. Jack Lemmon is one competitor, a washed-up and desperate older salesman at the end of his career. Kevin Spacey plays the odious manager in one of his first major film roles.
Based on David Mamet’s successful play, which Al Pacino had been slated to star in at one point (he has since played Lemmon’s character in a more recent production), the film adds Alec Baldwin’s character. It’s a very contained film, set mostly in the sales office. The director of photography, Juan Ruiz Anchia, makes good use of shadow and light to add interest and atmosphere within a confined space. It’s hard to put a play on-screen without it ending up stagey, but the acting makes up for it.
There were difficulties getting funding because of the level of foul language, which fits these characters and their circumstances. But having assembled one of the greatest film casts ever—Pacino at the top of his form, Lemmon in one of his later roles, Baldwin playing a jock-like jerk, and Alan Arkin and Ed Harris as more of the sales force and finally Jonathan Pryce who is getting swindled by Pacino’s Roma.
The film was directed by James Foley, whose reputation was made by this film but not helped by some later bad choices including directing the latest Fifty Shades film . Mamet wrote the screenplay himself, and it’s probably the best Mamet adaptation, a film that grows in esteem as time goes on and the film wasn’t a big hit when it came out. It’s well shot, and the theme still works. The story is obviously a statement on capitalism, one that the now famously rabidly right-wing Mamet might be less comfortable with today.