A film written by a novelist or playwright - Glengarry Glen Ross (1992) - 4 out of 4
When we were talking about David O'Russell and American Hustle over at RVF, I remember someone mentioning that the former is an actor's director and nodded in agreement. I bring that up now because if anyone wants to learn how to direct actors, then they need look no further than Glengarry Glen Ross. Before talking about anything else that is great about the film, I need to talk about how this is an actor's showcase. Each individual performance is nothing short of outstanding. No actor comes up short, no one upstages the other. They all sink underneath their roles to the point of making me wonder how Pacino can ever be considered as Shelley, whom he played in one of the recent stage adaptations. I cannot wrap my head around it.
Although I said no one actor should be singled-out, it is hard to talk about the film without talking about the travesty of Jack Lemmon missing out on an Oscar nomination (and possible victory). Every article I've read about the film talks about how none of these characters do anything to deserve our sympathy. And that is absolutely true! However, that is precisely what makes Lemmon's performance great. I choked up during one moment towards the end of the film. I knew Shelley actually didn't deserve my sympathy. But in that moment, Lemmon's acting made up for the character's shortcomings to generate just enough sympathy from me. There are two moments actually. One when he realizes the deal he closed is actually worthless. And the other when he says, "My daughter..." to John. This is my first exposure to him, and I am glad I chose this.
Let's now talk about the characters: As I said above, everywhere I read on the Internet, people keep on saying none of these characters deserve our sympathy. But to the extent that is warranted, Shelley is the most sympathetic. This comes out in the characterization itself, because he is the only person to get some additional backstory with his sick daughter. He also gets a lot of scenes where our symapthy is directed towards him. The house-call he takes to a close a deal which ends with the guy not even looking at him and closing the door on him. How many times have we done that to some poor salesperson without even blinking? It was different to see it from the other side.
If Shelley is the most symapthetic, then Ed Harris' Dave Moss is the least. He's a sleazeball who just complains and complains and complains without ever even looking to close a deal. It's not even that he is working the system to his advantage. It is that he doesn't want to do any work at all but wants to end up with his cake and wants to eat it too. Within this world, he is easily the most detestable. I remained mostly neutral towards the other characters.
Considering I chose this film as my A film written by a novelist or playwright, it is only fair we talk about the writing. Scene after scene, Mamet's writing drips with brilliance. There are two great monologues: the most famous is from Alec Baldwin, so I'm not going to dwell on that as much. The final one where Pacino's Roma gives a dressing down to Spacey's John. Each swear word is in the right position for effect. Each syllable uttered with the perfect weight by Pacino. You almost feel sorry for the humiliation Williamson gets in that scene, but not quite, because you know everything Roma is saying is absolutely true. (The beauty of this scene is Shelley watching from the shadows in the background.) Even if we forget about those monologues, every conversation can be listened to over and over again. The one between Moss and George over doughnuts, with the latter closing off the former's lines. The rhythm generated by the delivery is hypnotic. Like Lemmon, this is my first exposure to Mamet, and it's got me more interested in checking out more of his films.
The direction I would say borrows a lot from the minimalistic style of the arguably the greatest stage adaptation of all-time 12 Angry Men. Foley doesn't really do much, but what he does is very effective. The reason I feel a film ought to work better than a stage play is the room it allows for a director to play with the camera. Even if I watch the stage play now, I doubt it'd be as effective as the film was. The close-ups are what contribute greatly to making that happen. Foley doesn't overuse them, but when he does move in for a close-up, you know it is going to result in some great moments. Besides that, I would say the style is extremely sparse and minimal, which is exactly what is warranted.
Thanks to @majoraphasia for setting this challenge. This is a ridiculously great beginning to it. I cannot wait to see what the other 24 have in store for me.