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From Under A Rock: Glengarry Glen Ross

February 27, 2016 | Posted by Michael Ornelas
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From Under A Rock: Glengarry Glen Ross  


Some of the films we choose are ones we grew up loving and want to share with one another, and others are ones where this column gave us an excuse to check something out that we normally wouldn’t have and, if we loved it, bring it to the review here. Tonight’s film is the latter. I first watched it last year and immediately added it to the FUAR calendar (which goes all the way through 2017 at this point. Quite the commitment…) for its classic scenes and sublime performances.

You only get one first time, and for some people, it comes later than it does for others. This particular column is about documenting the first viewing of a “classic” movie or TV show determined at the discretion of Aaron Hubbard and Michael Ornelas in alternation.

Last week Aaron took Michael out West with Shane. This week Michael takes Aaron out from under the proverbial rock by giving him the good leads. It’s Glengarry Glen Ross.

Glengarry Glen Ross
Released: October 2nd, 1992
Directed by: James Foley
Written by: David Mamet
Al Pacino as Ricky Roma
Jack Lemmon as Shelley “The Machine” Levene
Alec Baldwin as Blake
Ed Harris as Dave Moss
Alan Arkin as George Aaronow
Kevin Spacey as John Williamson

Michael Ornelas: I love this movie for so many reasons, and I think it makes an interesting study for all of them. It’s jarring in its hypermasculinity, it explores morality when backed into a corner, and at its core, many of the roles within the average American workplace are all represented. Seeing so many elements mix together is what makes this movie special, and I will honestly make this a semi-regular showing in my rotation of favorites (this viewing was only my second).

Aaron Hubbard: I honestly didn’t know what to make of this pick when you announced it; I knew it was critically acclaimed and had something to do with money, but that’s about it. I haven’t been this engaged and riveted by a movie that’s almost entirely dialogue since I saw Spotlight, which is a tribute to the acting and the script, as well as the clear stakes of the movie. It was exceptionally enjoyable.
Brass Balls
It Takes Brass Balls to Sell Real Estate
Michael: So the first thing about this movie (and David Mamet in general) that I want to discuss is that it celebrates stereotypical “masculinity” for better or for worse. The aggressive “alpha” characters are the ones who find success (Baldwin, Pacino), while the meek are walked all over (Lemmen, Spacey, Arkin). Ed Harris’ character’s success is telegraphed, despite not actually shown, due to the fact that he actually got away with his share of the leads he sold and he was aggressive in the pursuit of them. Baldwin even makes the not-so-subtle statement “It takes brass balls to sell real estate” while holding the appropriate props. He also gets to boss around the weaker characters in his scene while, conveniently, Pacino (the other alpha) isn’t even present. I don’t necessarily agree with this approach to filmmaking as the message it sends could be harmful if ingrained in the minds of its viewers, but I think it’s fascinating to watch and it’s perfectly executed regardless.

Aaron: That’s an interesting takeaway from the movie. It didn’t even connect with me that this was the case until you pointed it out. I’m now sitting here pondering if I’m oblivious because I subconsciously support the message you’re saying is unhealthy. It certainly is in the case of the movie, as nobody should be the type of abusive asshole that Alec Baldwin plays. But I think Al Pacino’s character is relatively healthy in his aggression. As somebody in sales, I can’t deny I’ve engaged in the same kind of BS his character does. “Oh do you know anything about cameras?” “Sure, I know all about cameras. This most expensive one is the best one by far.” You have to be a go-getter to be successful to a certain degree. This makes me slightly uncomfortable with myself, when I think about it.

Michael: Pacino doesn’t hesitate to deceive his client (the only client with whom we get to see him interact) and play on his insecurities, and he even tries to postpone meeting with the client so the deal can clear before he even takes it back. He also plays the misogyny card by questioning his client’s manhood when his wife wants him to cancel his deal. Baldwin is an asshole to your face while Pacino screws you out of your money while playing nice with you. I don’t know about you, but I would rather know I’m dealing with the devil than think I’m doing business with an angel. The redeeming quality in Pacino has everything to do with how he treats his peers. That said, this viewing actually made him my favorite character in the movie because he had so many layers.

Aaron: I think I take it for granted in movies about salesmanship that even the half-decent people are going to be pricks. There’s a reason I hang up on anybody who is trying to sell me something.
You Close, or You Hit The Bricks
Aaron: Something I thought was rather interesting in this movie is how it’s kind of a microcosm of the American economy – there’s one jerkass at the top with all the success, money and power, and a bunch of other people who are essentially subservient to him, trying to catch up without any real ability to do so. Right away, we see the men in charge (Baldwin and Spacey) belittling everyone else for not closing deals. He suggests that they should be successful and will get rewards if only they tried harder, but it’s also made clear that these men don’t have access to good leads. They are calling people who don’t have as much wealth to spend on risks, asking them to take risks with their money. So our other characters (at least a couple of them who are obviously good at their jobs) don’t have the tools and resources they need to do their jobs, but are expected to do them anyway so that they can acquire said tools. Yep. That’ll work. I see no issues whatsoever with this game plan.

Michael: The Glengarry leads are just as much a pipe dream as they are the endgame of this movie. Is there something to be said about the confidence one gains from earning the right to get those leads? Is that confidence what makes them better leads to begin with? After seeing the character change for Shelley Levene (Jack Lemmen) once the movie gets to the morning, I truly believe that that man could sell even the crappy leads. It’s a chicken and the egg sort of conundrum, but the elitist nature of denying your employees all of the resources they need to find success is representative of the workplace even in 24 years after this movie was released, and it’s total crap.

Aaron: It says something that perhaps the most relatable character for the average is the one who ends up being a thief. Shelley Levene is somebody that I felt so bad for at the start of the movie, and I was so glad for him when he finally made a sale. Even when he was revealed to be the thief, I still couldn’t bring myself to feel like he was in the wrong. I’m not saying I would do what he did in the same situation, but I can’t deny that I wouldn’t think about it.
Have I Got Your Attention Now?
Michael: This movie certainly followed its own advice by casting the most capable performers it could for each of the roles. They each get our attention, hold our interest, cause us to make decisions about how we feel about them, and we take action by rooting for or against them accordingly. This is one of the greatest casts ever assembled because there’s no weak link. Not a single one. Every character, every actor in this film does something memorable (or, by design, fails to), and does so masterfully. The real stars here are Jack Lemmen, Al Pacino, and Alec Baldwin. Jack Lemmen plays one of the most sympathetic characters I’ve ever seen: the audience loves him and just wants to see him get that win. He has a chronically ill daughter in the hospital, and doesn’t even have enough money to carry out a bribe he attempts to make to Williamson (Spacey) to get a few of the Glengarry leads. Your heart breaks when it’s revealed that Levene is the one who broke in, especially when he had just made a big sale, and it’s even worse when Kevin Spacey leaves to turn him in for it after looking him dead in the eyes and telling him “I don’t like you.” AND he revealed that his sale was a dud. This movie ends with the most sympathetic character being kicked while he’s down, and Lemmen’s performance is why I was so crushed by it.

Aaron: I remember watching the credits of this movie at the start and getting more and more excited as names were revealed. This is a deliberately small scale film based on a stage play, with very few characters who all have to be distinct and memorable. This is even more difficult in an office setting where they are all wearing grey suits. But everyone involved is a genuinely great actor, and they all over-deliver because it’s clear they care about what they are involved in. And they should be. I appreciate Alec Baldwin for other things, but I don’t think he’ll ever make a bigger impact or have a better scene than the opening scene of this film. That was such a pitch-perfect scene that it’s almost a miracle that the film doesn’t derail after it.

Michael: You also laughed at me for picking yet another movie with Kevin Spacey in it (is this the third?), but the guy is consistently atop my “favorite actors” list for a reason: he never fails to bring the goods. And Pacino…I know I already mentioned him above, but there are so many nuances to his character, and he plays them all believably within the spectrum of “Ricky Roma” without ever seeming like he’s two different people. The way he’s endearing to Levene but slimy with Lingk, the way he’s harsh with Williamson…all these things define this incredibly intricate character and so I’m left with the impression that Pacino was actually the best part about this movie. The cast is all so good that there’s a case for many of them. That’s why this movie is worth watching almost a quarter of a century later.

Michael: My rating didn’t change, for better or for worse, on rewatching this movie. It’s an incredibly solid script with little in the way of cinematography, but performances I will always hold in high regard and clear stakes. The plot details are like a different language to me, but they make the material as accessible as possible (despite audiences not seeing it when it was in theaters; it bombed slightly). I can’t give it a perfect score, but the film gives me enough to think about and plenty more to enjoy that I can come close.


Aaron: I really enjoyed this film, much more than I was expecting to. But it occurred to me as I was watching that the main reason I enjoyed it was because of the enthusiasm and energy of the performers involved. Would I enjoy this with a different cast? I’m not sure, to be honest. Granted, this sort of thing is very difficult to make accessible to viewers, but I’ve seen it done better in The Wolf of Wall Street. Still, it’s a very strong movie with some unforgettable characters and scenes. I definitely give it a high recommendation to check out.


Michael: I haven’t seen The Wolf of Wall Street, but will get to it by June at the latest in my Scorsese marathon. If it’s better than this, I guess I’m in for a treat.

Aaron: I wouldn’t say it’s better, I just think it’s easier for the layman to follow. And I think their respective box office successes reflect that.

Do you want the car or the steak knives?

Next week:

Aaron: Ah, yes, I have been waiting to review this gem for a while now. This tiny independent film that was made on a Kickstarter fund is one of my favorite movies to come out in the last couple of years. While we’ve done a decent job of seeing as many critically acclaimed movies as I can lately, this is one that slipped out of my radar. I’ve since watched it three times and can’t wait for you to see it.
Blue Ruin
Michael: I know nothing about it other than finding, upon researching this movie, that Blue Ruin is also the name of a porn star. I assume you’re not having me watch porn for this column, but we’ll see if this movie can offer me as much entertainment as it would if it were.

Aaron: Well, it does have a 96% on Rotten Tomatoes (from critics anyway). So maybe that helps?

What is your favorite movie that nobody’s ever heard of?

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Check out our past reviews!
Mission: Impossible, They Live, Marvel’s Daredevil, The Silence of the Lambs, 12 Angry Men, The Usual Suspects, The Boondock Saints, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, The Iron Giant, Fargo, American Psycho, 28 Days Later, Frankenstein, Crank, The Godfather: Part II, American Beauty, Rocky, Alien, Spaceballs, Star Wars: Clone Wars, The Muppets Christmas Carol, Reservoir Dogs, Superman: The Movie, Lethal Weapon, Double Indemnity, Groundhog Day, The Departed, Breaking Bad, Shane, Glengarry Glen Ross

Aaron: Something that’s been on my mind over the last couple of weeks has been the “Where’s The Fair Use?” (#WTFU) movement going across YouTube and other websites. It revolves around the unfair cancellation of videos by reviewers who are using material under fair use to critique movies and other material, due to being accused of copyright infringement. As part of that movement, people have been donating to <a href=The Electronic Frontier Foundation, an organization that has been fighting for free speech, privacy and fair use since the 1990’s. They protect our digital rights, and any money you throw their way is only going to help your best interests.

The final score: review Amazing
The 411
Glengarry Glen Ross is about as close as modern movies get to feeling like a stage play. It's low budget and has limited sets, and that's impossible to shake. But it also has an outstanding, A-List cast that provide energy to a movie that's entirely dialogue about finances. The acting elevates the material, which already has strong character development in a short period of time. The scope is small, but the performances are grandiose and powerful, and that makes this feel like a movie you should see at least once.