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Glengarry Glen Ross

Summary. From Wikipedia:  “Glengarry Glen Ross is a 1992 American drama film adapted by David Mamet from his 1984 Pulitzer Prize–winning play Glengarry Glen Ross, and directed by James Foley. The film depicts two days in the lives of four real estate salesmen, and their increasing desperation when the corporate office sends a motivational trainer to threaten them that all but the top two salesmen will be fired within two weeks. The 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.”

Why I recommend this movie.  As a Labor Day movie, this film presents a “working man” that I can understand, because the subjects are working in the retail financial services industry, dealing directly with the public, and struggling to earn enough to satisfy their bosses and provide for their families. The setting is real estate sales, but it could be any kind of retail sales where the salesman is directly compensated for making a sale, from stocks to cars to appliances.

I am thankful that I was never a retail broker, but I can definitely relate to this film. Particularly the fact that very few providers of retail financial services are really fiduciaries who act in the best interest of their clients. Most retail clients don’t know enough to demand it, and the economics are such that the providers of retail financial services are strongly incentivized to charge as much as they can away with. Because I have my own independent firm now, I don’t have to do that. However, earlier in my career, I had to toe the company line, and sometimes I didn’t feel that I was acting in the client’s best interest.   

Also, as someone now in my 60s, I particularly relate to the character played by Jack Lemmon, who was once on top, but who is now being outhustled by younger guys that used to look up to him. He is most directly threatened by the character played by Alec Baldwin, the firm’s top salesman, who oozes money and confidence. He has been sent in by management to “motivate” the office. When he arrives he tells the office’s four salesmen that only the two who have the most sales at the end of the month will keep their jobs.

As the user review on IMDb says “This film is perfect.”  It illustrates how business can degenerate into “war,” with the winners being those who show no scruples with either their customers or their fellow salesmen. The character played by Ed Harris talks about what he learned when he first got into the sales racket: “You don't sell one car to a guy, you sell him 5 cars over fifteen years.” But, he says, “those guys who come in and burn everyone for as much money as they can get ruined a good thing.”  This attitude is personified by Baldwin’s character, who brags that his watch cost more than a "loser's" car. "Family man? Go home and play with your kids." "A loser is always a loser." In sharp contrast are the scenes when Lemmon makes references to his daughter. He is as desperate as Baldwin’s character to make money, but in his case, it is to pay for his daughter's medical treatment. His ultimate motivation may be pure, but the incredible pressure drives him to do unethical things.  

If you like well-written dialog and well-acted drama, this is one you will not want to miss. One critic says, “Clearly some of the best work that the likes of Al Pacino, Ed Harris, Kevin Spacey, Alec Baldwin, and even the great Jack Lemmon, have ever done.”


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