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Glengarry Glen Ross, Movie Review Example

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Movie Review

My general impression of Glengarry Glen Ross is mixed.  On one level, I admire how well the movie is written and acted.  It has a story to tell and it follows a solid arc of momentum and character development.  I am a little uneasy about some of the dialogue, I admit; David Mamet writes in a unique and strangely stylized way, and his characters often express themselves in broken phrases and unfinished sentences.  More to the point, I felt some actors, like Arkin and Harris, were struggling to make this seem “natural.”  I would also criticize how stage-bound the film feels to me.  Phone booths, a suburban house, and a Chinese restaurant notwithstanding, I had the clear sense that a play was being performed.  In fact, I think the impact might have been stronger if the film stayed completely within the depressing, claustrophobic “real estate” office.  These objections aside, however, I was taken by the film’s power and gritty realism.

At the same time, I have to say that the movie is by no means enjoyable.  Ironically, the power it presents goes to making the experience painful, and almost sadistic.  The salesmen are uniformly desperate men, even Ricky’s bravado is thin, and Shelley’s reduction to nothingness at the home of the suburban couple seems like a prelude to suicide.  The desperation is also not confined to the salesmen; Blake is a monster of aggression, Williamson is tragic in his own way, and outsider James Lingk is perhaps the most desperate of all.  This is an entire arena wherein success is nothing more than scrambling to stay alive for another day, and I literally thought that the salesman would do better working in a coal mine.  The environment creates the men, but it seems extreme that none would seek to find another way to earn a living, just as Moss’ trapping of Aaronow is suspect.  I understand the thrust of what Mamet means to do here and he succeeds.  Nonetheless, this is as bleak and miserable an urban jungle as I have ever seen, and it is difficult to accept that these men would so devote themselves to it.

Not unexpectedly, then, ethics in the film are virtually non-existent.  Every action is determined by gain, and there is an uneasy relationship between the salesmen and the environment that enables their gain: the office.  No one is safe because absolutely no rules are in place except those that reward performance and punish failure, and this goes to an interesting dilemma of the movie.  The recurring theme is the leads, namely the new and promising leads the salesmen must earn through selling on the old ones.  Clearly, it is in the best interests of the office to provide the men with the greatest likelihood of making sales.  This would translate to a utilitarian approach; as the salesmen do well, the office does well, and the greatest good is achieved for all.  Moreover, it is firmly established that even the top salesman, Ricky, could do nothing with the old leads.  Utilitarian thinking, then, strongly supports the office as providing only these new contacts to its sales force.

What happens, of course, is the converse.  Rather than enable the salesmen, the office chooses to pit them against one another in a grim battle in which they have nothing to work with but “scraps” from the past.  This is reinforced through Baldwin’s character as making the acquisition of the new leads a challenge of manhood and capability, and may be interpreted as somewhat reflecting a utilitarian agenda; that is, if the weakest performers are eliminated, the greater good is served.  The rationale, however, is flawed.  No greater good may be served here because there is no concern whatsoever beyond hoarding resources for an ultimate gain, and one utterly removed from the actual well-being of anyone.  There can be no utilitarianism when every person, from high to low, is concerned with nothing but himself.  The great irony of Glengarry Glen Ross is that, in this ruthless and mercenary world, those pulling the strings defeat their own purposes by ignoring the utilitarian approach that would create more gain.

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