The Movie Waffler DVD Review - <i>Glengarry Glen Ross</i> (1992) | The Movie Waffler

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DVD Review - Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)

The screen adaptation of David Mamet's play gets a reissue from Odyssey DVD.



Directed by: James Foley

Starring: Al Pacino, Jack Lemmon, Alec Baldwin, Alan Arkin, Ed Harris, Kevin Spacey, Jonathan Pryce


David Mamet's dog eat dog play may be the finest distillation of his muscular, if occasionally boorish voice, a powerful rallying cry against the dying of old school values and masculinity in an era of political correctness and the burgeoning trend of metrosexuality. Unlike Patrick Bateman, you suspect Mamet has no intricate grooming regime, and keeps his psychosis and neuroses firmly in his work.
James Foley's film adaptation has a cast to kill for, who attack the expletive filled dialogue with relish and a little ham on the side. The question remains, is it a film or a play on film? For all of Foley's unfussy work and attempts to move the narrative out of the office, into cars, restaurants and phone booths, it still feels like a stage. Only in Lemmon's Shelley Levene, the light slowly dying from his eyes, do you get a sense of cinema, as the frame gradually smothers his twitching desperate figure.
No one does swearing quiet like Mamet. It has a musicality and tone that distinguishes him from those other masters of the curse word, Tarantino and Scorsese. Here it is used as punctuation, rhythm and song, or Iambic fucking pentameter, if you will. The closest relative in cinema we have to this is the work of David Scinto and Louis Mellis, whose work on Sexy Beast and Gangster No.1 is an equal in swearing as poetry.
For all the musicality of the dialogue, is it something of an empty shell? Some 30 years after it was first performed, it should feel antiquated, but with the collapse of the banking system and the masters of the universe who have plummeted us into recession it feels just as relevant now. Who is Alec Baldwin's Blake (a character written especially for the film, who has the most memorable scene) if not a Wall Street broker writ large, plunging the US into moral and fiscal bankruptcy.
The Glengarry leads then, represent the American Dream, ever present and in sight but just beyond the grasp of these working stiffs who would be rich if only they got a break. It resonates harder than ever as the gap between rich and poor widens and the despicable phrase "one percenters" enters common parlance. It seems, unlike the employees of this real estate office, we now know the game is corrupt, but still don't give a fuck, because this time we might get lucky.
Foley has always been an anonymous director, and here he has the sense to step back and let the actors supply the pyrotechnics. Ed Harris and Alan Arkin, as a Laurel and Hardy of despair, are great fun, and Spacey tries on the schlubby weasel suit for the first time. It is Lemmon who must take the acting plaudits here. Levene is like C.C. Baxter from The Apartment gone to seed, his moral conscience worn down by years of disappointment. A wheedling, unctuous and desperate chancer utterly out of his depth, it's a performance both hypnotic and compelling, but almost too embarrassing to watch.
Pacino may be the top line star of the show, but as Ricky Roma, a shark among minnows, there is a little too much of the eye rolling shoutyness and mannered acting that has turned him into something of a caricature over these last decades.
As a clarion call for a society slowly eating itself, it can't be beat. As an acting showcase it's unbeatable, but as cinema it still feels like theatre.
8/10
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