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Glengarry Glen Ross: Special Edition

Artisan Home Entertainment

Starring Jack Lemmon, Al Pacino, Kevin Spacey,
Ed Harris, Alan Arkin, and Jonathan Pryce

Written by David Mamet, from his play
Directed by James Foley

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Review by Gregory P. Dorr                    

David Mamet is, is, is — what is he? — he is. He is David Mamet. Who else would he be? Who? I ask you. I ask you and I will tell you.

David Mamet is David Mamet, in fact, because — and I say this because it is true — the plays he writes, the screenplays he authors, the movies he directs, the — what are they? — the things he does are, are, are Mametian.

They must be. Because he is David Mamet.

It is a fact of nature.

In 1984 David Mamet won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. He wrote a play called Glengarry Glen Ross. It was about salesmen. Men who sell. Who sell for a living. Their lives depend on it.

So they lie. They cheat. And when the shit hits the fucking fan they steal, you fucking cocksucker. You.

The 1992 film version of Glengarry Glenn Ross was not directed by David Mamet and yet is amongst the most Mametian of his films. The play was written at the peak of Mamet's trademark style: Thoughts. Sentences. Words. Broken. Uncertain. Interrupted. Violent. An intricate and effortless zigzag of jagging profanities, profundities, insults, cries, declarations, and bullshit. Although Mamet himself has directed eight movies, which he also wrote, only a few, the early ones, House of Games, Homicide, are as unfailingly Mametian as Glengarry Glenn Ross, as directed by James Foley.

This can be a problem. Although Mamet's style is bracing and entrancing, it can also be, well, it can be — what? What can it be? Why don't you say it? Are you scared to speak the words? — obtuse, cryptic, silly. Too stylized. Mametian to the point of what the fuck?

For the most part James Foley, not being David Mamet, handles this very well. His cast is perfect. Alec Baldwin. Ed Harris. Alan Arkin. Al Pacino. Kevin Spacey. Jack Lemmon. These actors pull Mamet's tough dialogue out of the static rhythms that both enliven and weary it and make it real. Except when they can't.

Al Pacino has a monologue. It is famous. This monologue is Mamet doing Mamet. And it is a literary masterpiece. But it is not a dramatic masterpiece. "When you die, you're gonna regret the things you don't do. You think you're queer? I'm gonna to tell you something: We're all queer." It is, when you think about it, when you put it in context, when you place the words in the mouth of Al Pacino as a salesman trying to sell someone a parcel of Florida swampland, it is ridiculous. It is nonsensical. It makes no sense. "You fuck little girls? So be it." This is a sales pitch? No. It's a tone poem. And a great one. But it's too much Mamet and not enough salesman.

And what can you do? Nothing. This is a David Mamet movie.

And there is no changing that.

*          *          *

Glengarry Glen Ross is enormously popular amongst Mamet's filmed work, mostly for the delight that Mamet fans take in their master's esoteric abuse of the English language, and for the joy of hearing such abuse performed by heavyweight thespians like Harris, Pacino, Baldwin, and Spacey (in his first major role, and brilliant). And Foley's dark, neon atmosphere is engrossing, in a stagy, artificial way. Nevertheless — and this may amount to heresy — despite the force of Glengarry Glen Ross's style, it is, thematically, somewhat obvious (yes, salesmen lie, and the ethics of such a workplace can be slippery to maintain), and the much-celebrated performance by Jack Lemmon is, typical to Jack Lemmon, pretty mannered, and stands out awkwardly against the masterful underplaying of Arkin, Pacino, and Spacey. One has to wonder if all the praise showered upon Lemmon for his role as desperate Shelley Levine has more to do with the oddity of Felix Unger playing Mamet.

Glengarry Glen Ross, while consistently enticing, is never as cohesive or satisfying as Mamet's undervalued 1991 drama Homicide or his absolutely sparkling 2000 comedy State and Main, but it is an effective, flashy, and technically thrilling example of why Mamet is the Mamet that Mamet-lovers love and, for that, at least, it should be said. It should be said.

*          *          *

Artisan's two-disc Special Edition of Glengarry Glen Ross features the film in both an excellent anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1) and full-screen (1.33:1) transfers on separate discs. Disc One, with the widescreen version, features DTS, Dolby Digital 5.1, and Dolby 2.0 Surround audio tracks, includes a commentary track by Foley, as well as the featurette "Magic Time: A Tribute to Jack Lemmon."

Disc Two, with the full-screen transfer, is accompanied by Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby 2.0 Surround audio tracks, and also features selected scene commentary from Alec Baldwin, Alan Arkin, cinematographer Juan Ruiz Anchia and production designer Jane Musky; a Charlie Rose interview with Jack Lemmon; a clip from Kevin Spacey's appearance on Inside the Actor's Studio during which an enterprising student enlists Spacey to join him in a reading of his favorite scene from the film; and two short documentaries, "A.B.C. (Always Be Closing)" and "J. Roy: New and Used Furniture."

— Gregory P. Dorr

Disc One

Disc Two

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