'Glengarry Glen Ross': THR's 1992 Review

Glengarry Glen Ross Still - Photofest - H 2017
It's the acting display as much as the Mamet worldview that is front and center.

On Oct. 2, 1992, the film adaptation of David Mamet's Pulitzer Prize-winning play Glengarry Glen Ross was released in theaters by New Line Cinema. The film starred a murderer's row of acting greats including Al Pacino, Jack Lemmon, Kevin Spacey, Jonathan Pryce, Ed Harris, Alan Arkin and Alec Baldwin. The Hollywood Reporter's original review is below.

David Mamet’s harsh, hard-talking drama about shady, desperate real estate salesmen makes for an actors’ showcase with a surprisingly conventional whodunit backdrop in the movie version of Glengarry Glen Ross.

While the dark view of human nature and brutal dialogue might keep faint hearts from the film, the cast manages to individualize and humanize the pugilistic wordplay so that its expressiveness never veers into offensiveness. In fact, it’s the acting display as much as the Mamet worldview that is front and center and will prove the box-office draw.

The action centers on the four salesmen of Premiere Properties, purveyors of dubious Arizona real estate developments with high-flown names (such as the title). One rainy night, the quartet is called into the office from their evening haunt, a red-vinyl Chinese restaurant and lounge, to hear a spokesman from “downtown” (Alec Baldwin, in a forceful, but very brief, appearance) tell them in obscene terms that the bottom two salesmen in monthly sales will be fired. Top seller Ricky Roma (Al Pacino) hasn’t even bothered to show up, but middle sellers Dave Moss (Ed Harris) and George Aaronow (Alan Arkin) are driven nearly to rage by the situation, and start planning a revenge: to steal a file of hot leads and sell them to a competitor.

Shelley Levene (Jack Lemmon), a former hot salesman on a long cold streak, is reduced to near-despair. For the next 20 hours we watch the consequences of the meeting unwind, with most of the attention on Ricky and Shelley. When the cards are discovered stolen the next day, a police investigation ensues; Dave and George react with hysterical denial, while Ricky and Shelley alternatively chuckle and crow over big sales they have made.

The film climaxes with the surprise solution of the theft, and for a film that depends on character relations, it is unusually dependent on plot mechanics for resolution. Additionally, it has a coldhearted office manager, John Williamson (Kevin Spacey), straight out of barnstorming melodrama.

Director James Foley, despite using a widescreen format, relies largely on close-ups and two-shots, a formula that emphasizes the characters’ isolation and the tenuousness of their fitful alliances.

Although Arkin and Harris give fully ripe performances — Harris all spiteful rage, Arkin conflicted by anger and regret — Lemmon and Pacino end up with the most room to stretch. Despite having been round the floor with this type of character many times before, Lemmon still manages to invest his array of anger, desperation, loneliness, sadness, grief and hurt with fresh vitality.

Pacino’s character reading is more offbeat; his Ricky is a charmer as well as a tantrum-thrower, and he affects a believable eccentricity. Jonathan Pryce plays Roma’s sales quarry, and though he acquits himself well, the part is small and by definition recessive.

Cinematography and production design effectively convey a dark, cramped world, and the music is jazzily on-the-make. — Henry Sheehan, first published on Sept. 30, 1992