GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS

By Marc S. Sanders

The characters in David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross are under terrible pressure.  They are salesmen who are consistently chasing insurmountable sales goals in real estate properties.  One of them has an ill daughter in the hospital.  Another has a temptation to rob his office as a means of earning some fast cash.  Another is in despair of his self-worth.  To be a salesman, of any kind of commodity, is a tough life to lead.  The payoffs can be enormous when a sale is successful.  However, once a transaction is complete, the response is often “what have you done for me lately?”  These guys are never happy.  However, they are also some of the cruelest, most insensitive, and thoughtless people you will ever meet.  They have no other choice but to behave that way.  It’s the nature of the business.

The film adaptation of Mamet’s Pulitzer Prize winning play contains a collection of outstanding actors doing some of their best work.  They embrace the brutal dialogue the screenplay hands over to them with relentless cursing and flaring tempers.  Glengarry Glen Ross has you believe that you run your sales career on your own with little help or encouragement from the people you slave for. 

Early in the film, Alec Baldwin, known only as a man named Blake (based on the end credits) visits the office where these salesmen are based out of.  He delivers an unforgiving and harsh reality of what these men must do.  They either get their sales numbers high on the board, where they can win a new Cadillac, or they settle for a set of steak knives for second place.  After that, they are fired.  Regardless of where they currently stand though, they should not even be pouring themselves a cup of coffee.  Coffee is only for closers.  The office manager, known as Williamson (Kevin Spacey), only provides the men with sales leads that have already been exhausted with rejection and hang ups. 

Director James Foley does a wise technique with color.  The first half of the film appears in drabs of greens and greys amid an evening of torrential rain downpour.  Before Blake finishes his threatening presentation, he dangles new leads, the “Glengarry Leads,” in front of the men saying these are not for them, because they are only for closers.  The old leads that Williamson hands out are on green index cards, nothing flashy.  Blake’s leads are bright pink with a gold ribbon tied around them.  Foley makes sure that even a prop tells a story.

The salesman that gets the most attention is perhaps Shelley “The Machine” Levene played by Jack Lemmon.  He’s elderly and past his prime with no numbers currently on the sales board.  Frequently, he is making calls to the hospital for an update on his daughter who is due for surgery, but if he can’t make a payment, then the procedure is likely not to happen.  Lemmon is fascinating in maybe the best performance of his career.  Many of his scenes are toe to toe with Spacey as he shifts from pleading to demanding to disingenuously threatening and ultimately bribing Williamson for the new leads. Levene is so out of touch now that he can’t even sell Williamson on helping him out.  Spacey as Williamson is terrific in his defiance to not lend any sort of aid to Shelley.

David Mamet added additional material to the script, not found in the stage play.  The Blake character is new to the film, for example, and I think it is a better, more fleshed out story because of it.  As well, Foley is able to go outside of the reserved settings of the bar and office, as he follows Levene making a knock-on-the-door sales call in the middle of the rainy night to a family man.  This may be Lemmon’s best scene of the film as he weasels his way into the home to quickly get his raincoat and hat off and get a seat on the sofa as he begins his “once in a lifetime” opportunity that the potential customer may miss out on.  It’s a sales pitch, despite Lemmon’s charm, and the patron can see right through Levene’s performance.  As the door closes on Shelley, you’re terribly sad for his desperation and failure.

On the other end of the spectrum is the current, most successful salesman named Richard Roma.  He’s played by a showy looking Al Pacino who initially doesn’t perform in the broad strokes he’s become recognized for as an actor.  Pacino does a quiet, delicate approach to his character’s sales presentation as he shares a table with a sap (Jonathan Pryce) who is weeping into his liquor glass.  Roma stretches the rainy evening out in the bar with this guy, talking about vague anythings, until he can subtly pounce on him with a brochure that’ll get his signature on a contract. 

Two other salesmen, Moss and Aaronow (Ed Harris, Alan Arkin) vent their frustrations elsewhere in the bar as they eventually segue into an idea of burglarizing the office for those tempting new leads.  However, are they working together as a team on this idea, or is one working something over on the other?  Mamet’s dialogue is chopped up perfectly with utterances and interruptions, that before a character reveals his intentions, you are left flabbergasted.  What is demonstrated here is that a skillful salesman is also an efficacious manipulator.

The second half of the film is set on the following morning where the sunlight has come through.  New revelations following the stormy night from before will present themselves as the men gradually arrive at the office to find it actually has been robbed.  The obvious of circumstances are there.  However, Mamet sets up an ending that’ll leave you breathless.  It did for me the first time I watched the film.  Just when you think you are watching a protagonist throughout the film, something else entirely comes up.

Glengarry Glen Ross has been regarded as a modern-day Death Of A Salesman.  Maybe it is.  I’ve worked in this kind of field before. There were months where I was good at it, and like everyone else, I would brag about my success with recaptured anecdotes and celebratory curse words flying out of my mouth.  There were also months where I would gripe about how uncompromising this life is. When I didn’t want to do sales any longer, I spent twelve years as an assistant to sales representatives.  They are not your friend.  They are only focused on the next contract to be signed and booked before month end, and they will ask anything of you with a seething f-word attached to their request.    Are we so terrible if we can not make an unreachable goal with tools that offer no help and supervisors that lend no encouragement or forgiveness?  To be a salesman means that any of your past accomplishments or education do not define you.  You are only identified as the one who must acquire the next thing, and then the next thing after that.  It will change your attitude about yourself and how you treat others.  It’ll alter your dialogue which is so vitally apparent in Mamet’s story.  It will even influence you to take measures you never thought you’d be capable of.

James Foley enhanced an already electrifying script from David Mamet.  He knew that if he was going to show how hard and challenging it is to be a salesman of boring, uninteresting, and practically intangible parcels of land, then he was going to have to be relentless in the art direction and settings contained in the film.  The first half of the film never, ever lets up with the rain storm going on outside in the city street.  The evening is as black as can be, and yet Williamson casually will ask Levene if he is going out tonight. Who in the dead of night in the rain is going to want to talk to a droning salesman about anything?  Yet, that’s what is expected of this life.  The office setting is unfriendly, decorated with ideals that hang from the walls with phrases like “A man must embrace further than what he can reach.”  Little touches like this only add to the uncaring and selfish nature the men really have for one another. 

Glengarry Glen Ross depicts a hard life for the man in a suit.  You may dress like what is expected of a professional, but you are also always scraping the bottom of another bottom.  The cliché that money can’t buy happiness is personified in a film like this.  You may get to the top and score a nice commission, but it’ll soon be forgotten and nothing you’ve done before will lend to your current state.  Next month, someone else will be standing where you are standing.  Worse, you may never be standing on top again, and then what will you do?

Sadly, I believe that Glengarry Glen Ross reflects what many people experience at least at one point in their lives.  We are all salespeople to a degree whether we are doing a job interview or even trying to impress the parents of someone we are dating.  It doesn’t always work out.  The question is where do any of us go from that point.

RONIN

By Marc S. Sanders

John Frankenheimer directed the exceptional thriller Ronin, featuring Robert DeNiro and a band of baddies all hired to intercept a mysterious suitcase. The contents are never revealed, and it really doesn’t matter. It’s the pursuit that’s important. Consider this a glossier version of Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction. Not big on exceptional dialogue but huge on top notch car chase action.

Frankenheimer works with a script co-written by J.D. Zeik and David Mamet (using a pseudonym), and all that’s necessary to assemble a gripping two hour story is to have the characters team up, then abandon each other and then double cross each other. How do you identify professionals like these? Well, recruit Michael Lonsdale (former Bond villain from Moonraker) to explain the meaning of the samurai known as Ronin who have become masterless; skilled swordsman with loyalty to no one any longer.

DeNiro plays “Sam” who may be former CIA. He’s one of five men hired by an Irish woman named Deirdre (Natasha McElhone) to retrieve the well-guarded package. This entails intercepting a convoy of cars riding along the French countryside. The fun in the car chase action of all this is that the characters are implied to be at least as ruthless as the subjects they’re stealing from. Therefore, Frankenheimer and his team of 300 (yes, that number is accurate) stunt drivers can offer up reckless collateral damage; cafes are crashed into, buses flip over, and motorcycles skid out of control. It’s Vice City before there was ever a Vice City video game. These guys are not stopping for little old ladies crossing the street.

Jean Reno partners up with DeNiro for a time as a Frenchman and Stellan Skaarsgard plays a German ex-KGB agent. Eventually, Jonathan Pryce comes in to play as well, representing more Irish influence. Sean Bean is here too. (Have you been paying attention? That’s three Bond villains in one movie!!!!) All good casting.

That’s about all there is to say. The plot is deliberately thin with a slight, mediocre twist, and a romance that’s nothing truly interesting.

Still, Ronin is watchable. Frankenheimer and his cinematographer, Robert Fraisse, present awesome locales of a thriving Europe from 1998. Editing is quick and sharp too. Consider Ronin a precursor to Paul Greengass’ Jason Bourne films.

If nothing else, beyond the various car chases and high stakes shootouts, DeNiro had me convinced he was clearly instructing his colleagues on how to remove a bullet from his gut.

Yes. You pretty much see everything.

TOMORROW NEVER DIES

By Marc S. Sanders

Pierce Brosnan’s second outing as James Bond is Tomorrow Never Dies and it is his best appearance in the series.

Bond faces off against Elliot Carver (a gleefully bloodthirsty Jonathan Pryce), a global media mogul who enjoys creating worldwide conflict for the best news headlines in print, television and the newfound medium of something called the internet. His pawns are Great Britain and China, and just like any worldwide media mogul he has his own stealth war ship for apprehending missiles and using them against the nations. This ship also has a massive drill that can penetrate a ship’s hull. Oh yeah, Carver also has the means to redirect a sea vessel into enemy territory. Bet Ted Turner or Rupert Murdoch could never do any of these things. Carver also has a big, blond bruiser of a guy called Mr. Stamper (Gotz Otto) – another in a long line of big, blond bruiser guys to face off against 007. Stamper is nothing compared to Robert Shaw in From Russia With Love, though.

Dame Judi Dench is back as M. I like how she holds her own too. As an actor, Dench has such command of any role she plays. If she is in a scene, everyone listens to her primarily. Even in a goofy Bond movie, Dench puts these films above the standard fare.

Teri Hatcher is also good in a small role as Carver’s wife Paris, and a former flame of Bond’s. M encourages Bond to “pump her for information.” Ahem!

With the Brosnan entries from the 90s, the series was updating itself for a more mainstream feel. So the female stand-in is Michelle Yeoh as a Chinese agent named Wai Lin. Yeoh plays one of the best sidekicks/Bond girls of the series. This agent can hold her own while firing off two machine guns, one on each arm and offering up a great display of karate moves. Yeoh works well with Brosnan especially when handcuffed together while riding a BMW motorcycle and evading machine gun toting cars and a massive helicopter terrorizing a bustling Vietnam village. A fantastic sequence.

Before that, Bond pilots his BMW 700 series from his backseat on his cell phone pad, within a parking garage. Bazookas, guns, crowbars, sledgehammers and missiles can’t stop this luxury car though. After all, the Germans do make some of the best automobiles. Another really entertaining action scene.

I think this is a better film than GoldenEye. Brosnan appears more comfortable with the role and his humor is funnier. He rides the motorcycle through a laundry clothesline and Wai Lin tells him to go faster. Bond’s response: “Alright. Keep your shirt on!” I liked it. I was having a good time with the film.

Roger Spottiswoode was the director this time and he does a fine job. All of the action scenes are well orchestrated and edited.

I’ll also give props to Sheryl Crow for her alluringly sexy and haunting title track. I have never forgotten the song since I saw the film.

Tomorrow Never Dies is a great action film worth checking out whether you’re a James Bond fan or not.

I really like this entry.