Sunday, October 3, 2010

Adventures In Real Estate, A Razor-thin Decision On Glengarry Glen Ross.

The Good: Acting, Character, Details, Human Understanding
The Bad: Plot, Language
The Basics: Strangely, a combination of excellent actors and fine characters set in a plot so realistic as to go nowhere and detract seriously from entertaining with Glengarry Glen Ross.

Every now and then there comes along a film that we, the viewer, know is good and we take it for granted that it's good, even if we don't understand quite why. Glengarry Glen Ross is supposedly one of those movies. The truth is, it's a fine film, though it's one that came down to the toss of a coin as to whether or not to recommend the movie.

Glengarry Glen Ross follows the lives of four real estate salesmen at a real estate firm and their boss. The film focuses primarily on Shelley Levene, an aging agent who is trying desperately to make money to send for his hospitalized daughter. He works under the tight-assed John Williamson and works with the currently on a hot streak Ricky Roma. The film focuses most on those three, though there is a pleasant amount of time spent with two other agents who are very disenchanted with the office after all of their jobs are threatened.

When all four agents are threatened with meeting a monthly quota, they are told they won't get the leads they need in order to meet the quotas until they sell some units. (Confused? Bare with me into the analysis, I'm with you on this one!) Immediately, two of the agents concoct a plan to skip the b.s., steal the good leads and sell them to another agency. When the principles return to work the next day, it appears the heist has happened, but who actually pulled it off comes into question and the remainder of the film is something of a mystery trying to figure out who the guilty party is.

Where the film succeeds is in its characters and actors. The actors are all talented, they're all playing to their strengths. The acting is amazing. And it's a good thing, too; the characters they are playing are demanding. Yet Jack Lemmon (Levene), Kevin Spacy (Williamson), and Al Pacino (Roma) all achieve success with their full on performances. One of my favorites, Jonathan Pryce, appears as well delivering a performance with subtlety and precision. I also have to say Ed Harris and Alan Arkin, who play the other two agents, are perfectly paired. They are funny and their banter is extraordinarily quick.

Where the film fails is in its realism. It's too realistic. The dialogue is so precisely true to the profession of the salesmen that it is isolating to those not in the field. In fact, seeing the down and dirty ends of the salesmen's lives does nothing to make those of us on the other end of the phone like them more. It's a man eat man world and it's portrayed very realistically and it's off-putting especially when the characters speak. They throw around terms like leads (which are basically mailing lists of potential clients) and units (which we never know specifically how much one is) with complete understanding. Often the film is like sitting between people telling an inside joke. Most of us are not on the inside.

While the dialogue is very precise, it's also not terribly complimentary. The f-word pops up way too frequently as do some even less desirable words. While these instances speak very much to the quality of the characters, it does become distracting at points. Moreover, the endless stories the characters tell each other, while saying a great deal about the industry and the characters, they become grating to the viewer, detracting from any sense of movement.

While the film credits clearly reveal that this film was based on a play, part of the problem is it reads that way. That is, there are differences between putting on a play and making a movie; they're two different mediums. The static feeling of the direction of this film makes it seem like a play. It doesn't use the full range of what film can be, so it feels like a filmed play.

While the fundamentals are strong in acting and character, the plot takes a long time to begin and then seems to go nowhere. In the end, the film's dominating sales-oriented dogma, drowns the viewer and makes it not terribly entertaining. Recommended for anyone who likes any of the actors involved, but no one beyond that. My recommendation honestly came down to the flip of a coin.

For other tight, character-driven dramas, please check out my reviews of:
The Game
The Dark Knight
Wall Street


For other movie reviews, please check out my index page!

© 2010, 2001 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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