Al Pacino. Jack Lemmon. Ed Harris. Alan Arkin. Kevin Spacey. Bruce Altman. Jonathan Pryce. Jude Ciccolella. Alec Baldwin. Glengarry Glen Ross. All director James Foley had to do was point his camera and shoot. David Mamet adapted his own blistering play for the screen with a tremendous sense of vulgar energy and edgy verve, so all that was required was someone to capture the words and do little else. But instead, because Foley has quietly fashioned himself into one of the most underrated filmmakers of my lifetime, he brought his own sense of macho style to this testosterone-fueled war of the words, and as a result, the film still feels every bit as incendiary now as it likely did upon first release as a Pulitzer winning play back in 1983. Showcasing the desperate and volatile lives of a group of Chicago-based real estate salesman, this is one of those special narratives that provides every single actor with a serious chance to shine on multiple occasions, while allowing for one of the most show-stopping single scenes of character interaction that’s ever been captured on film to take place (the bit with Baldwin and his hostile threats to the entire group). After the agents come under fire for lack of results, the story’s pace becomes even quicker, with each man doing their best to not be fired by the end of the week. Words are flung like extra-sharp daggers all throughout this whip-fast and supremely observed character study, with Mamet basing certain aspects of the office life depicted on screen on his own experiences working in a real estate office when he was just starting his writing career.
In working with the great cinematographer Juan Ruiz Anchia, Foley was able to craft a casually menacing visual atmosphere, shooting through glass with streaks of bold yet smeared color, and lots of rain drops, with an uncertain vibe thanks to the jazzy and cryptic score from James Newton Howard. Howard Smith’s judicious editing kept an extremely fast pace, which is all the more a challenge when a film is as dialogue heavy as this one. And what can one really say about Mamet’s perverse sense of humor and his caustic worldview? Each character in Glengarry Glen Ross is given their own distinct voice, despite everyone letting the F-bombs fly with gusto; few other writers have understood the value and meaningful nature of the word “fuck” the way Mamet does. What you end up hearing all throughout this movie amounts to a form of brutal, tough-guy poetry, and it’s the way that there’s always this sense of honesty and concrete logic to Mamet’s writing that keeps it solidified even when it becomes highly stylized. Despite not catching on at the box office, Foley’s magnetic piece of filmmaking has become a well deserved classic as a result of the VHS and DVD era, and has inspired any number of motion pictures moving forward. Lemmon won the Volpi Cup for Best Actor at the Venice Film Festival, while Pacino nabbed Oscar and Golden Globe nominations for Supporting Actor (while winning Best Actor for Scent of a Woman). Many consider Baldwin’s extended cameo to be his greatest screen achievement. This is a piece of work that simply gets better and better as the years progress.