Al Pacino, Jack Lemmon, Alan Arkin, Ed Harris, and Kevin Spacey all in one movie, each with significant time in front of the camera. Who steals the show? If you guessed none of the above, you either were too afraid to guess or you’ve seen Glengarry Glen Ross. GGR does have all of these actors for the entire movie; it also has Alec Baldwin for one scene.
In the end, three minutes of Baldwin overshadow an hour and a half of some of the greatest actors of more than one generation. His brief, but memorable performance can be likened to that of Matthew McConaughey’s in The Wolf of Wall Street. In both cases, they achieve the goal of all actors/characters — to be memorable in just one scene.
While McConaughey’s speech takes on a lighthearted approach, Baldwin takes quite the opposite in setting, tone, and content. McConaughey is beating his chest, planning on drinking martinis until he pass the f*ck out, and talking about jerking off in a nice restaurant. Meanwhile, Baldwin literally bursts onto the scene, into the dark, downtrodden office. He wastes no time berating all of the salesman. In his entire three minute scene, Baldwin’s character Blake does not utter one single positive word.
He comes close at one point…“nice guy?” he asks to Harris’ Dave Moss. Only to follow it up with “I don’t give a shit. Good father? F*ck you! Go home and play with your kids.” Not the kind of guy you want to be giving the pre-game speech to your son’s tee-ball team, but perhaps the perfect guy to whip the struggling salesmen at this real estate office into shape. He teaches A-B-C, “A-Always, B-Be, C-Closing. Always be closing” and A-I-D-A “Attention, Interest, Decision, Action”.
This is important advice to the salesmen trying desperately to follow the leads and make deals. In fact, they seem to never be closing, despite their best attempts of persuasion, lying, or hiding of their intents. Jack Lemmon’s Shelley Levene tries to convince a man he’s doing him a favor, not trying to sell him anything. The man, upset that his wife even talked to Levene in the first place, first tries to politely tell Shelley no and then, when he is unable or unwilling to take the hint, comes out and denies the proposal as bluntly as possible and drives off.
Pacino’s Ricky Roma (ironically the only one not present for Baldwin’s speech) has more initial success. He is able to convince James Lingk (Jonathan Pryce) to buy real estate. Then, he thinks he’s run into bad luck when the office is robbed by Levene and Moss. Assuming he’s lost his sale, he berates the boss Williamson (Spacey). Which, by the way, who would ever want to work for Kevin Spacey?
Soon thereafter, Lingk comes back in at the behest of his wife to take back the purchase. Roma immediately goes into his own form of A-B-C: A-B-L, “Always Be Lying”. He introduces Levene not as a co-worker but as an important and wealthy client who he must fly out with immediately, so as to avoid their meeting until after it’s too late. When Lingk catches on to this, Roma tries to assure, through more lies, that their meeting won’t be too late — by wrongly counting days at first, then finally by telling him that the bank hadn’t cashed the check yet and he will have three days after the bank has cashed the check.
This seems to put Lingk at ease until Williamson comes out and unknowingly reveals the lie by saying that the check had been cashed despite the break-in. When the sale blows up as a result, Roma informs Williamson that “you never open your mouth until you know what the shot is”. In that moment, Williamson is the buffoon of the office. But a Spacey character rarely ends a movie as a buffoon, even if it may seem to be heading that way, and Williamson indeed has a little Verbal Kint in him.
When Shelley is taking a victory lap around his boss he slips up. Williamson, in his lowest point of the movie, catches Shelley’s slip up and uses it to surmise that it was him who robbed the office. How else would he know the check wasn’t really cashed unless he had been in the office at the time it was robbed? It’s classic Spacey as he turns the tables on Lemmon, who he actually credits as one of the biggest influences in his acting career.
And the movie ends like that. Not a single sale was successful throughout the entire movie. Not even the robbery was successful. Instead, you had a movie with a finite setting in terms of time (less than a day) and location (mostly in the office or the rain) filled with mostly people arguing with each other. Maybe the leads were weak as Levene suggested. Maybe the salesmen were weak as Blake suggested. Maybe both were weak.
One thing that wasn’t weak, though, was the acting in GGR, and that was what made the movie worth watching. Watching actors like Pacino, Spacey, and Lemmon go at it on the big screen would be like getting to see Muhammad Ali fight Mike Tyson. Not many movies can boast such an impressive cast, especially for a movie with so few characters (and, in fact, no female characters). The truth is all of these actors are so good that you could randomly switch up the roles and still end up with a similar product. So any of these actors could have played Blake and equally stole the show — Baldwin was the lucky one. The role of Blake was his lead, and he closed. Then he told the other actors to “go and do likewise, gents”. And they did what their characters couldn’t — they closed.