Viking Night: Glengarry Glen Ross
By Bruce Hall
April 18, 2012
Ever had to sell for a living? It’s not easy. And it’s not fun, unless you’re the kind of person who loves to listen to yourself talk, or you like to lie, cheat and/or steal. That would be why, when you’re actively looking for a job, the first people you always hear from are insurance companies, car dealerships and real estate firms. Everyone hates lawyers, but you don’t become one by accident. It’s a choice. Sales is often another animal altogether. Most people aren’t cut out for the hard sell but it isn’t always an option. Sometimes you’re desperate. Sometimes it’s an accident.
And then the difference between eating and not eating is convincing someone you don’t know to part with money they don’t have for something they don’t want.
Times like that call for the ability to disengage completely from your conscience. And while most people are content to lie on their W-4 and bring home office supplies from work, the majority of us can’t take our capacity for self preservation to the next level. Unless we can. Unless the creditors are calling and the mailbox is full of red envelopes. Unless we’re a week’s pay from eating out of a dumpster.
I’m not saying that all salesmen are lying scumbags. I’m saying that all the ones in the movies are.
So, welcome to the wonderful world of Premier Properties - a Chicago real estate outfit that will gladly sell you 400 acres of beachfront property in Arizona - as long as you’re prepared to part with your kids’ college fund tonight. Yes, it has to be tonight. No time to think about it; no time to consult your spouse. The deals are hot and time is short. If I don’t sell you this hunk of land with the Indian cemetery on it by midnight, I don’t eat tomorrow.
Basically, Premier Properties is a sweatshop where the kids are going gray and what they’re selling is a lot less useful than a pair of sneakers.
It’s hard to flourish in this kind of environment and with the economy in recession, everyone’s feeling the pinch. Shelly “The Machine” Levine (Jack Lemmon) was once Premier’s top seller, but lately his canned, Nixon era cold call pitch is netting him next to nothing. George (Alan Arkin) is a sweet man who’d be better off as a social worker. Moss (Ed Harris) is a know-it-all braggart whose real talent is following up every glorious failure with an even more glorious excuse.
Williamson (Kevin Spacey) is their office manager - that not so rare mid-level corporate animal who differs from his employees only in the sense that he’s less talented, but still possesses the ability to kiss unlimited ass. And the pair of cheeks wearing down his Chapstick is Mr. Blake (Alec Baldwin), direct liaison from the home office, sent to the Premier offices to light a fire under his miserable contingent. That he does, but not quite in the way he intended.
Alec Baldwin channels his inner d-bag better than most actors of his generation - whether screaming at little girls until they cry or getting himself thrown off airliners, few actors are able to channel their demons into both comedy and drama with equal aplomb. When Alec Baldwin walks on screen and says “Put. That. Coffee. DOWN...”
You put your damn coffee down.