Glengarry Glen Ross is a 1992 independent film, adapted by David Mamet from his acclaimed 1984 Pulitzer Prize- and Tony-winning play of the same name. The film depicts two days in the lives of four real estate agents and how they become desperate when the corporate office sends a representative to "motivate" them by announcing that, in one week, all except the top two salesmen will be fired. The film, like the play, is notorious for its use of profanity, leading the cast to jokingly refer to the film as "Death of a Fuckin' Salesman. The actual title of the film comes from the names of two of the real estate developments being peddled by the salesmen characters (Glengarry Highlands and Glen Ross Farms). Glengarry Glen Ross had its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival where Jack Lemmon won the Volpi Cup for Best Actor. The film was not a commercial success, only making $10.7 million in North America, just below its $12.5 million budget. It was critically well-received with highly positive reviews by most of the major critics. Al Pacino was nominated for an Academy Award and a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor for his work in the film.
Shelley Levene (Jack Lemmon) has not made a sale in some time. He is desperate for money, mainly because his daughter is very ill and the medical charges are enormous, and knows that he will lose his job soon if he cannot turn things around. He tries to convince office manager John Williamson (Kevin Spacey) to give him some of "the Glengarry leads" – names and phone numbers of promising potential clients for expensive properties the firm will be selling in the near future. Williamson refuses. Levene tries first to charm Williamson, then to threaten him, and finally to bribe him. Williamson is willing to sell some of the prime leads, but demands cash in advance. Levene cannot come up with the cash and must leave without any good leads to work with.
Dave Moss (Ed Harris) and George Aaronow (Alan Arkin) are complaining about Mitch and Murray, the big bosses. Moss tells Aaronow that they need to strike back at Mitch and Murray by stealing all the Glengarry leads and selling them to another real estate agency. Moss's plan would require Aaronow to break into the office, stage a burglary, and steal all the prime leads. Aaronow wants no part of the plan, but Moss intimidates him, saying that Aaronow is already an accomplice, legally, simply because he listened to the idea.
Ricky Roma (Al Pacino), the office's top "closer," delivers a long, disjointed but compelling monologue to a meek, middle-aged man named James Lingk (Jonathan Pryce). Roma does not bring up the real estate he wants to sell to Lingk until the very end. Instead, Roma preys upon Lingk's insecurities and his sense that he has never done anything adventurous with his life. Lingk sees in Roma all the virtues he lacks: virility, confidence, a sense of adventure.
The next day, the salesmen come into work to find that their offices have been burgled and the Glengarry leads have been stolen as well. Williamson and the police question each of the salesmen in private. After his interrogation, Moss leaves in disgust, only after having one explosive last encounter with Roma.
During the cycle of interrogations, Lingk arrives to tell Roma that he and his wife have changed their minds and want their money back. Scrambling to salvage the deal, Roma listens as Williamson--unaware that Roma is stalling and holding off Lingk's cancellation of the sale--lies to them by saying that he already deposited Lingk's check in the bank. Upset, Lingk rushes out of the office, threatening to contact the state's attorney, and Roma berates Williamson for what he has done.
Roma then enters Williamson's office to take his turn being interrogated by the police and Levene, proud of a sale he made that morning, takes the opportunity to mock Williamson in private. In his zeal to emasculate Williamson as Williamson has done to him, Levene inadvertently reveals that he knows Williamson did not make the bank run and left Lingk's check on his desk; something only the man who broke into the office later that night would know.
Williamson catches Levene's slip-up quickly, and compels Levene to admit to breaking in. Levene eventually breaks down, and admits that he and Moss conspired to steal the leads to give to a competitor. Williamson pretends to consider a bribe from Levene in return for keeping quiet to the police, but eventually reveals to Levene that the people to whom he made the sale are crazy and have no money, and that he has no interest in helping Levene, for the simple reason that Williamson dislikes him. (Since Williamson knowingly gave the bad lead to Levene, it may be assumed that Williamson had been giving him more bad leads, and was thus responsible for Levene's bad run of luck.) The film ends as Levene walks, defeated, into Williamson's office where the police are waiting. Roma walks out of the office for lunch, and Aaronow continues his sales calls as usual.
Al Pacino originally wanted to do the play on Broadway but was doing another Mamet production, American Buffalo, in London at the time. He expressed interest in appearing in the film adaptation. In 1989, Tokofsky asked Jack Lemmon to act in the movie. During this time, Kershner dropped out to make another movie as did Pacino. Alec Baldwin, who also attached, left the project over a contract disagreement. James Foley’s agent sent the film director Mamet’s screenplay in early 1991 but he was hesitant to direct because he “wanted great actors, people with movie charisma, to give it watchability, especially since the locations were so restricted”. Foley took the screenplay to Pacino with whom he had been trying to work on a film for years. Foley was hired to direct only to leave the production as well. By March 1991, Tokofsky contacted Baldwin and begged him to reconsider doing the film. The producer remembers, “Alec said: ‘I’ve read 25 scripts and nothing is as good as this. O.K. If you make it, I’ll do it”. The two men arranged an informal reading with Lemmon in Los Angeles. Subsequently, the three men organized readings with several other actors as Lemmon remembers, "Some of the best damn actors you're ever going to see came in and read and I'm talking about names". Tokofsky’s lawyer, Jake Bloom, called a meeting at the Creative Artists Agency who represented many of the actors involved and asked for their help. CAA showed little interest, but two of their clients – Ed Harris and Kevin Spacey – soon joined the cast.
Because of the film’s modest budget, many of the actors took significant pay cuts. For example, Pacino cut his per-movie price from $6 million to $1.5 million, Lemmon was paid $1 million, Baldwin received $250,000, and so on. This did not stop other actors, like Robert De Niro, Bruce Willis, Joe Mantegna and Richard Gere from expressing interest in the film. Once the cast was assembled, they spent three weeks in rehearsals. With a budget set at $12.5 million, filming began in August 1991 at the Kaufman Astoria Soundstage in Queens, New York and on location in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn over 39 days. Harris remembers, "There were five and six-page scenes we would shoot all at once. It was more like doing a play at times [when] you'd get the continuity going". Alan Arkin said of the script, "What made it [challenging] was the language and the rhythms, which are enormously difficult to absorb". During filming, members of the cast who were not required to be on the set certain days would show up anyway to watch the other actors' performances.
The film's director of photography, Juan Ruiz Anchía relied on low lighting and shadows with a blues, greens and reds color scheme for the first part of the film. For the second half, he adhered to a monochromatic blue-grey color scheme. During the production, Tokofsky and Zupnik had a falling out over money and credit for the film. Tokofsky sued to strip Zupnik of his producer’s credit and share of the producer’s fee. Zupnik claimed that he personally put up $2 million of the film’s budget and countersued, claiming that Tokofsky was fired for embezzlement.
The film opened in regular release on October 2, 1992 in 416 theaters, grossing $2.1 million on its opening weekend. It went on to make $10.7 million in North America, just below its $12.5 million budget.
Reviews were highly positive. The film currently has a rating of 98% on Rotten Tomatoes and a metascore of 80 on Metacritic. Owen Gleiberman gave the film an "A" rating in his review for Entertainment Weekly magazine, praising Lemmon's performance as "a revelation", and describing his character as "the weaselly soul of Glengarry Glen Ross-Willy Loman turned into a one-liner". Peter Travers gave the film his highest rating in Rolling Stone magazine and wrote, "The pleasure of this unique film comes in watching superb actors dine on Mamet's pungent language like the feast it is". Roger Ebert's review in the Chicago Sun-Times wrote, "Mamet's dialogue has a kind of logic, a cadence, that allows people to arrive in triumph at the ends of sentences we could not possibly have imagined. There is great energy in it. You can see the joy with which these actors get their teeth into these great lines, after living through movies in which flat dialogue serves only to advance the story".
Vincent Canby praised, "the utterly demonic skill with which these foulmouthed characters carve one another up in futile attempts to stave off disaster. It's also because of the breathtaking wizardry with which Mr. Mamet and Mr. Foley have made a vivid, living film that preserves the claustrophobic nature of the original stage work", in his review for the New York Times. In his review for Time, Richard Corliss wrote, "A peerless ensemble of actors fills Glengarry Glen Ross with audible glares and shudders. The play was zippy black comedy about predators in twilight; the film is a photo-essay, shot in morgue closeup, about the difficulty most people have convincing themselves that what they do matters". Desson Howe's review in the Washington Post criticized Foley's direction, writing that it "doesn't add much more than the street between. If his intention is to create a sense of claustrophobia, he also creates the (presumably) unwanted effect of a soundstage. There is no evidence of life outside the immediate world of the movie".
Jack Lemmon was voted Best Actor by the National Board of Review. Al Pacino was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor but did not win. He was also nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role but failed to win; the same year he was nominated and won the Best Actor Oscar for Scent of a Woman.
Empire magazine voted the film the 470th greatest film in their "500 Greatest Movies of All Time" list.